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As you get older, you may notice you’re not getting as much sleep as you used to. And your sleep may also be changing in other less obvious ways.
It’s not just quantity — the quality of our sleep tends to decline with age. Our brains lose more and more of their ability to enter a deep, restorative part of sleep called non-REM sleep. These changes in the length and depth of our sleep make it all the more important to prioritize a good night’s sleep as we age.
What once came easily may now require careful habits, but it’s just as valuable.
The AdventHealth Center for Sleep Disorders can work with adults of any age to diagnose their sleep problems and come up with a plan to get you back to sound sleep.
Here are 8 pieces of advice to achieve your ideal sleep health as you get older.
- Hours Still Matter: It’s a common misconception that adults need less sleep as they age, says sleep expert and neurologist Holly Skinner, DO. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night. A 2018 study found that sleep deprivation in older adults promotes biological aging, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
- Quality Time: But it’s not all about quantity — not all sleep is created equal. Simply being asleep doesn’t mean you’re getting the full benefits of both dreaming and dreamless sleep. Medication can put you to sleep, but it is often not giving you all of the benefits of rest. Likewise, even if you can fall asleep after you drink a cup of coffee at night, that sleep is likely to be less restful, even if you don’t remember waking up at night. In other words, sleep aids may get you to sleep without providing its real benefits.
- Practice ‘Sleep Hygiene’: Just as regular hygiene is a set of habits to prevent infections, sleep hygiene is a set of habits to achieve healthy sleep. Consider your bedroom: Does it encourage good sleep? Is the temperature at a comfortable level? Do you scroll through a phone or tablet in bed? Turn off those screens before bed and try not to drink much right before bed.
- Get Moving, Get Sleeping: Though exercise alone can’t ensure a good night’s sleep, it does appear to play a role. One massive study found that people who got any exercise at all — even brisk walking a few times a week — were one-third less likely to report sleep problems and half as likely to say they were tired in the daytime.
- Keep a Sleep Diary: Just like your memory of a dream can fade minutes after you wake up, it can be difficult to remember how your habits affect your sleep. Taking a scientific approach can help you identify the connections between your habits and your sleep experiences. Every night is like a mini-experiment, a chance to try again and find habits that work for you. The National Sleep Foundation has a sample diary to download and print on its website.
- If You Can’t Sleep...: If you’re having trouble falling asleep, don’t toss and turn in bed. Get up and do something relaxing like read a book or meditate, then return to bed when you’re tired. Good sleep is about habits, and harmful ones can stick as well as good ones.
- If You’re Snoring, Consider Sleep Apnea: Nocturnal noise can be more than frustrating for a sleep partner; it could also be a sign of a serious illness. If you’re carrying extra weight, some of it could be blocking air into your lungs, leading to sleep apnea. The illness is more common as you age — and it can raise your risks for heart disease — so if you or a partner are snoring more than usual, talk to your doctor.
- Napping Can Be a Crutch : Dr. Skinner notes that our days can be less strictly organized as we get older, and the extra free time can make it easier to take a nap. But if you can’t fall asleep after napping, then skip it. That afternoon nap may cause you to experience less deep, more fitful sleep at night.
Rest is about more than feeling refreshed. Florida Hospital’s CREATION Health philosophy teaches that rest rejuvenates the mind, body and spirit, allowing you to live at your best.
Making a choice to form better sleep habits is good for more than peaceful slumber. It helps you establish control over your life, which leads to improved health and longevity.
But if these tips don’t work for you, don’t assume you’re doing something wrong. Difficulties falling and staying asleep may be caused by a sleep disorder that even the healthiest habits can’t overcome.
Sleep is a great example of the connections among our mind, body and spirit. Resting our body can reinforce and strengthen our mental lives. To find a partner in getting you back to sleeping soundly, call the AdventHealth Center for Sleep Disorders at 407-303-1558 or visit our website.