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The importance of good sleep in later life

Posted on 27/06/2017

As we age, our sleeping patterns naturally change. Over the years, sleep gets less deep and it’s common to wake up more during the night or earlier in the morning. This is all a normal part of the ageing process; however, sleep disorders can also get more common with age. Things like insomnia and apnoea, for example, can occur more in older people, though there are successful treatments available.

However, some health conditions and medications in older age can also lead to less sleep, and prolonged periods of reduced sleep can have a huge impact on health and wellbeing. A lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk of things like depression, anxiety, dementia, heart disease and more. Also, a lack of good sleep at night can lead to tiredness and sleepiness in the daytime, which can increase the risk of accidents and falls.

Managing your sleep as you age is, therefore, very important to maintain good brain health, and prevent the onset of some later-life conditions. Recent studies have shown the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain, including reduced brain activity in the areas that control things like decision making, problem solving and memory.

Here are our top tips for creating a good sleep environment and ensuring that you get enough shut eye.

Stick to a routine

Our bodies respond well to routine. Try and go to bed at roughly the same time every day, and get up at the same time in the morning. Follow the same bedtime routine every night, so that your brain learns the triggers for sleep. A nice bath, followed by a warm drink and reading a book or taking part in another relaxing hobby, such as listening to the radio or sewing, can help to send the brain signals that it’s time to relax. 

Close down screens

Watching the TV before bed is common, but it can actually contribute to sleep problems. It’s best not to have a TV in the bedroom, and the same goes for computer screens, tablets and phones. For a period before bedtime, don’t use anything with a screen, but rather read a book or do a puzzle to help wind down.

Create a relaxing sleep environment  

Your bedroom should be dark and cool. Make sure that the curtains block out the light so the room is as dark as possible, and consider having a window partly open for airflow in warm rooms. Make sure that bedding is comfortable and not too heavy.

Check your bed

Mattresses can sag and warp over the years, so if you’ve had yours for many years, consider investing in a new one. The same goes for the actual bed – it needs to be supportive and comfortable to help encourage good sleep. There are specialist beds available to help in later life too.

Mind your diet

Eating well can help with good sleep. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats, and drink enough water. Don’t eat too close to bedtime, as the body will still be working to digest the meal when you want to sleep. Also, avoid any stimulants, such as caffeine or alcohol in the evening as these will also affect sleep.

Avoid naps

After a bad night, it can be hard to resist a daytime nap, but having a nap can make it harder to get to sleep again at night, and thus triggering a cycle. Take some downtime to rest instead, by relaxing in front of the TV or reading a book, to help refresh yourself.

Take gentle exercise

Staying active can help with good sleep. Having a short walk outside, going swimming, taking part in a class… all these activities can help to promote good sleep. However, make sure that this isn’t too late in the day, as it can then negatively affect sleep. 

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