Ah, the “joys” of getting older. As we age, our bodies go through many changes — we slow down, don’t have as much energy, greys and wrinkles move in and on and on. Our sleep habits also take a hit, going from nights of deep, restorative sleep to a few hours of fragmented sleep. Studies show that sleep actually starts to decline in the late 20s and early 30s, and goes downhill from there. By the age of 50, many will be able to experience only about 50% of the deep sleep that they were getting in their early 20s. Not getting enough quality sleep leads to a litany of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Why Does This Happen? Researchers are trying to pinpoint the exact cause, but many believe that the loss of neuronal receptors in the brain that pick up cues of fatigue and sleepiness plays a big role. In essence, your body is tired, but your brain’s not fully relaying the message. As a result, older adults typically average waking up three to four times a night and spend less time in deep sleep.
What Can We Do? While researchers are busy trying to find ways to keep the brain from losing neuronal receptors as we age, there are certain steps to take to get a better night’s sleep. Lifestyle changes can pay off in big ways. The following have been found to be helpful:
- Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bed (remember caffeine is found in many sodas and chocolate).
- Try eating a light bedtime snack or drinking warm milk, which contains a natural, sedative-like amino acid.
- Skip taking naps
- Exercise (moderately) in the afternoon.
- Avoid the overstimulating effects of TV, computer and laptop screens before bedtime.
- Practice relaxation techniques.
- Get into a bedtime routine: go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Ask your doctor if any of the medicines you take may be interfering with your sleep.
- If you wake up feeling cold or overheated, try switching to temperature-regulating bedding and moisture-wicking sleepwear.