Sleep Guide for Seniors
Proper sleep is so important to a vast array of body functions, from mental acuity, physical stamina and even digestive health. As we age our requirements for sleep remain just as important as in our younger years. The adult body still requires 7-9 hours of good quality sleep every night to feel rested and well every day. Struggling with sleep is common among seniors who often experience insomnia, light sleeping and interrupted sleeping. This could be due to a variety of factors, including medications, poor digestion and lack of exercise.
This guide will cover the various issues that seniors may experience around quality sleep and some tips for getting a good night's rest.
Sleep and Aging
In infancy and childhood sleep is crucial for the development of the brain, nervous system, and every part of the mind and body. Throughout adulthood, and as a senior, the need for quality sleep does not diminish, it remains just as important. At this time in life, sleep is vital for physical and cognitive function, mental health, digestion and metabolism, and overall well being.
The problem is that quality sleep is devalued and underrated in adulthood. Our busy society values hard work and constant stimulation, while often ignoring the importance of rest and self-care. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to illness and disease including autoimmune conditions, degenerative disease, mental and emotional imbalances, hormone imbalances, underactive thyroid and adrenals, and many more.
Just as building a healthy bedtime routine is important for children, the same goes for adults and seniors. Keeping a night time schedule and creating an environment that allows you to relax and unwind is crucial for getting a good quality sleep.
Aging and Insomnia
Adults and seniors are greatly affected by insomnia, which is the difficulty of falling or staying asleep. This could be caused by many different factors including medications, arthritis, chronic pain, anxiety and depression, sleep apnea, snoring, cardiovascular conditions, and thermoregulation.
Many of these issues of the mind and body have overlapping effects that can be caused by as well as the cause of insomnia and poor sleep. This negative feedback loop can become a vicious cycle where poor sleep leads to health conditions which further induces insomnia.
Managing Sleep Problems
Dealing with sleep problems can be frustrating, confusing and exhausting. You may be tempted to resort to over-the-counter and prescription sleep medication but remember that this is not addressing the root cause. These medications can also become habit-forming, causing you to become dependent upon them to fall asleep which will make it even harder to do so naturally. Worst of all, sleep medications have various possible side effects including brain fog, grogginess, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness and changes in appetite.
It may be a good idea to work with a naturopath or healthcare practitioner to get to the root cause of your sleep challenges and formulate a holistic action plan. In the meantime, here are a few tips that you can start to implement to improve your sleep.
Physical Activity - Regular exercise and movement of any kind is vital for a healthy body and mind. Light exercise and walking are great to get the body moving and help promote sleep. Aim for 30 minutes daily and not less than 4 hours before bedtime.
Get Outside - Not only is getting out in nature great for mental wellbeing, but the exposure to sunlight will regulate your circadian rhythm which controls your sleep and wake cycle and hormones.
Timing of Meals - Eating a late and heavy dinner can make it hard to fall asleep at night. Try to have your last meal before 6 pm or a few hours before you usually go to bed, and keep it light.
Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol - Although alcohol can cause you to fall asleep quickly, it reduces REM sleep and can also suppress breathing, precipitate sleep apnea, and can cause a dependence or addiction. Caffeine is a stimulant that can take many hours to be metabolized and eliminated from the body, making it difficult to fall asleep and sleep deeply. Avoid caffeine after 2:00 pm to lessen the effects of insomnia.
Night Time Routine - Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Having a sleep routine will help your body develop a habit and get used to going to bed at the same time each night. Creating a routine, just as with a child, helps the mind and body wind down and get ready for a good night’s rest. Include things such as a bath or foot soak, herbal tea, body oil massage, brushing your teeth, listening to calming music and reading a book.
Avoid Naps - Although naps may feel refreshing and sometimes necessary, they could be making it more challenging to fall asleep at night. By avoiding that afternoon nap you will have better success with falling asleep at night.
Read Before Bed - Reading a book before is a great way to reduce stress, calm the mind and induce sleep.
Avoid TV or Other Electronics Before Bed - the blue light emitted from electronic devices is excitatory to the brain and disrupts the circadian rhythm. Avoid screen time within one hour of bedtime to prepare your brain for sleep.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary - Turning your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary will increase your desire to spend more time in there before bed. Adding a salt lamp, essential oil diffuser, clean and comfy sheets, inspiring artwork and maybe some relaxing music, are all great ways to make your bedroom an enjoyable space for relaxation. Keep your room at a comfortable temperature for sleep (usually between 19-21 degrees), use a white noise machine to block out ambient sounds, and blackout blinds or a sleep mask to create as dark an environment as possible (which allows for proper melatonin production = better sleep).
Magnesium - Magnesium has a calming effect on the body and may help promote restful sleep. It is involved in so many processes within the body and can help with pain, anxiety, and insomnia. There are various forms of magnesium, but magnesium bis-glycinate is the best for relaxing the body and promoting sleep.
Take: 200mg - 400mg in capsule or liquid form before bed. You can also use magnesium flakes in a warm foot or body bath at night. Keep in mind that high doses of magnesium can cause loose stool, so it is best to start with a low dose and see how your body responds.
Lavender - Lavender is one of the most recognized and loved herbs all around the world. Using a few drops in a diffuser in your bedroom can help calm the nervous system and promote restful sleep. Lavender essential oil can also be added to the bath.
Chamomile tea - Chamomile is an amazing herb that is known for its calming properties and can help with anxiety, indigestion, restlessness, irritability, and colds. Sipping on a cup of chamomile tea before bed will help to soothe your body and relax your mind to prepare for sleep.
Other great herbs for sleep include valerian, passion flower, and peppermint which can be sipped as a tea or found in tincture form. *note that these sedative herbs should not be combined with medicatons.
Aging is thought to bring a host of health issues both mental and physical, and of course problems with sleeping. But if we care for ourselves and provide the body and mind with various tools, we can reduce negative symptoms and live a beautiful and healthy life. Take it one day at a time and try some of the tips in this guide to get you sleeping better and feeling great.