For many people, sleep gets harder with age. Both sleep latency (the length of time it takes to fall asleep) and sleep fragmentation (the number of times you wake during the night) tend to increase with age, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Problems like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea – all of which are more common among older adults – making it harder for seniors to feel rested.
Rest assured (pun intended), there are a few simple things you can do to get a better night’s sleep well into your golden years so you’re rested up and ready for the adventure of retirement.
1) Establish a set sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning to the extent possible. Establishing a predictable sleep routine can help set your internal clock and improve the quality of your sleep during those hours.
2) Follow a bedtime routine. If you have children, you likely adhered to a pretty strict bedtime routine, recognizing that they slept best after a warm bath and a story. The same is true for adults but we rarely afford ourselves the same care. While it may not involve story time, following the same routine each night can tell your body it’s time for bed and promote the z’s you need.
3) Awake without an alarm. If you’re getting enough sleep and sleeping according to a relatively predictable schedule, you should wake without an alarm in the mornings. If you need an alarm, you either need more sleep or to go back to step one and stick to your routine.
4) Choose a high quality mattress. Shop around and, if you have back or neck problems, ask your physician for recommendations. If you wake up aching and sore, you might not be sleeping on the right mattress, which can lead to tossing and turning and poor overall sleep quality. Consumer Reports provides a good overview here.
5) And pillows. The quality of your pillows – and their ability to support proper spinal positioning – is just as important as the quality of your mattress.
6) Take a bath or shower before bed. Bathing before bed produces two major benefits for sleep. First, the bath itself is relaxing and can help you prepare your mind and body for sleep. Second, the process of cooling down after a hot shower or bath promotes quality sleep.
7) Stay cool. Research shows that staying cool promotes better sleep. In fact, while ideal room temperature is 70-74 degree Fahrenheit during the day, that temperature drops to 60-67 degrees at night. Programming your thermostat to drop a few degrees at bedtime, wearing lightweight night clothes, opening windows, and using breathable bedding can all help you stay cool at night.
8) Choose a relaxing backdrop. White noise can be especially helpful for those who are light sleepers, easily awakened by closing car doors or the snores of their sleep partner. Running a fan or downloading a white noise app can help reduce the likelihood of interruptions so you get a better night’s sleep.
RELATED: Finally, get the good night’s sleep you deserve! Shop Homedics Sound Spas.
9) Keep your bedroom dark. Sleeping with a television or nightlight on can confuse your internal clock, which expects it to be light during the day and dark at night. While blackout curtains aren’t always the best option (because sunlight is important in the waking process), minimizing light sources at night is important.
10) Get plenty of sunlight during the day. It’s not just darkness at night that helps transition your body into sleep mode, but the contrast between ample daylight during the day and darkness at night. In order for a dark room to effectively elicit sleep, you must get as much daylight as possible while awake by keeping curtains open and spending time outside (more on that later).
11) Avoid sleeping during the day. Despite what we learned from our mothers and grandmothers, napping is not the root of all evil…but it can interfere with a good night’s sleep if you nap too often or for too long. Sometimes a nap is just what the doctor ordered, but 20-30 minutes should suffice (and morning naps are safer than afternoon naps).
12) Avoid blue light before bed. Blue light, which is emitted from most screens like televisions, computers, tablets, and phones, can make it more challenging to fall asleep at night. You should avoid “screen time” for at least an hour or two before you go to bed at night.
13) Spend more time outside. Research shows that in all groups, both men and people over age 65 sleep best when they’ve spent more time outside. Nature is “a potent sleep aid.”
14) Exercise every day – even a little. According to Sleep.org, as little as 10 minutes of exercise each day can help you fall asleep quicker and wake up feeling rested and rejuvenated. You should try exercising at different times of day to find out what works best for you; some people sleep better if they exercise in the morning while others enjoy the cool-down before bedtime.
15) Avoid tight clothes. Wearing lightweight, breathable clothes or underclothes can promote better sleep at night.
16) Don’t eat right before bed. Your stomach would like to sleep when you sleep, so give it a break by finishing your last meal or snack no later than 45 minutes before you go to bed (but ideally 2-3 hours before bed).
17) Dedicate your bed to sleep. Spending too much time doing recreational activities in your bed – like watching TV, working, doing crossword puzzles, visiting on the phone, etc. – can confuse your brain and body. If you go to your bed when it’s time to sleep and only when it’s time to sleep, your brain and body will associate your bed with sleepiness.
These quick, easy, and mostly free suggestions can get you well on your way to improved sleep at any age.