Sleep Strategy: Tips to Help Seniors Get the Sleep They Need

The need for restful sleep increases as you grow older, but
just getting to sleep can be a challenge for many seniors, who often nod off
during the day. Seven to nine hours of sleep is
recommended, but a litany of physical problems, from hormonal imbalances to
chronic joint pain, can make it very difficult for many older adults to get the
restful, restorative sleep they need. As such, it may be necessary to take a
strategic approach aimed at preparing both mind and body for bed rather than
simply lying down and hoping for the best night after night. Here are a few
helpful tips to consider:

Relax in the bath

Nothing’s quite as relaxing as a good soak in a warm bath. Warm water gets your
body working for you by forcing your body temperature to drop when you get out
of the tub, which slows the heart rate and causes you to feel tired. You’ll
also feel relaxed and soothed in both body and mind and better prepared for
bed. Try lighting some candles and adding aromatic bath salts to the bath
water; anything that helps you relax and wind down is going to be beneficial.

Wind down

It’s
hard to make the transition to bed if you’ve been active and have an elevated
heart rate. You need time to calm down and relax before hitting the sack;
otherwise, it can take a long time to nod off, if you’re able to sleep at all.
Establish a “wind-down” routine that you’ll follow each night. Shut off all electronic devices, including the
television, smartphone and computer an hour or so before going to bed. Take
time to read a book, listen to some relaxing music or clear your mind by
meditating for a while. Anything that helps you unwind will be helpful.

Transform your bedroom

A busy and disordered sleep environment is a common
problem among people with insomnia or other sleep disorders. You need a space
that’s conducive to sleep, which means your bedroom should be for sleep alone,
a place bathed in soft light, cool (about 60-67 degrees) and free of distractions – no
television or other screens left turned on. If you’re sensitive to noise, turn
a fan on low to create a relaxing
white noise
(and to cool off the room), or utilize a
white noise app on your smartphone. Your bed clothing and sheets should be made
of light, breathable fabric.

No more napping

This can be a tough one for many seniors. An afternoon nap
can be refreshing and may be necessary for some elderly individuals for health
reasons. If you’re able, eliminate napping during the day so that you feel
sleepy in the evening. Your goal should be to get at least seven hours of sleep
a night, and it should be uninterrupted, which is difficult to accomplish if
you’ve slept during the day.

Eliminate stimulants

It’s tempting to have a tasty cup of coffee or tea at night
before going to bed, but the caffeine they contain is a powerful stimulant that elevates
the heart rate and revs up the metabolism. Avoid using products that contain
nicotine, and pass on that second piece of after-dinner cake, since sugar can also make it difficult to
wind down at night.

Healthy habits

Exercise is important for elderly individuals and can help
make it easier to sleep at night. Maintaining a healthy diet is also important,
so emphasize vegetables, fruit, protein and whole grain foods, and cut out
processed foods and items that are heavy with sodium and sugar. Beware of fruit
juices that are loaded with sugar and choose healthy foods for snacking, such
as raisins, grapes and nuts without salt.

Get
tested

If you’ve improved your sleep hygiene habits but still
aren’t able to catch a solid night of ZZZs every night, you may want to get
tested for a sleep disorder, such as periodic limb movement, sleep apnea, or
restless leg syndrome. These conditions can be common in the elderly, so it’s
important to get them addressed. Medicare may even pay for a sleep test if it’s deemed
“medically necessary,” and if you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, could cover
three months or more of your expenses for CPAP therapy, meaning you could
finally find your way to consistent, healthy sleep.

Getting
a good night’s sleep can be difficult for older adults. It’s necessary to take
special steps to prepare your body and sleep environment to help you get to
sleep without difficulty and get the healthful rest your mind and body need.
Focus on exercise, a healthy diet and smart, thoughtful actions every evening
before bedtime.

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