Aware Senior Care Blog
Imagine not cleaning your kitchen for a month while using it on a daily basis. Unless you improve your sleep habits, that’s basically what’s going on in your brain.
And that’s how Jeff Iliff, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Health and Science University, describes what happens to the brain when we chronically lose sleep:
Not very appealing, is it?
Yet, if you’re suffering from poor sleep on a consistent basis, a similar environment is developing in your brain. Without proper time to perform maintenance during restful sleep, the brain’s performance while you’re awake dips.
You may become tired, unfocused, irritable, and sick. You’re also more vulnerable to disease.
Additionally, as we age, the parts of the brain responsible for deep sleep are the first to deteriorate.
Dr. Rangan Chatterjee notes in our Aware Senior Care recommended book “How to Make Disease Disappear” that the consequences of sleep deprivation include:
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Decreased cognitive ability
- Poor performance at work
- Increased likelihood of being involved in a road traffic accident
You may consider taking a sleep aid or sedative, but sedation blocks REM sleep, an important cycle necessary for learning. It is far better to continually work on improving your sleep habits!
This all may sound (understandably) alarming, but the solutions are easy to implement and cost-effective.
How to Sleep Better at Night Naturally
•Routine – When you sleep and what you do before bed
•Environment – Where you’re sleeping and what you are sleeping on
•Diet & Exercise – What you eat and how active you are
1. Re-calibrate Your Circadian Rhythm with a Bedtime Routine
The more consistent your bedtime and sleep routine is, the better your sleep will be. Try your best to go through your normal bedtime regimen at the same time each evening. This includes everything you do prior to bed, like brushing your teeth, washing your face, and putting on your pajamas.
Dr. Chatterjee suggests a “No-Tech 90” minutes prior to going to bed. Using technology close to bedtime is stimulating and will make it harder to stay on a sleep schedule. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be staying asleep.
If possible, incorporate a mindfulness practice into your bedtime routine. This could include meditation, a nightly prayer, listening to gentle music, or reading a good book hours before bedtime.
2. Create the Ideal Sleep Environment for Ideal Sleep Habits
A good night’s rest is impacted by where you are sleeping and what you’re surrounding yourself with.
Sleep in Cooler Temperatures to Induce Sleep
A room that’s too hot will keep you tossing and turning all night. Our body temperature naturally drops at night when preparing for sleep. Sleeping in cooler temperatures will encourage your natural instinct to sleep.
- Falling asleep quicker
- Increased production of melatonin to help you fall asleep (also helps with anti-aging)
- Decreased risk of disease
- Reduced stress levels
Eliminate Unnecessary Sources of Light
Have you ever been camping or vacationed in a remote and quiet destination?
You went to bed early and woke up at the crack of dawn. Your sleep was probably the best you’ve ever had, right?
Darkness is a natural signal for humans that it’s time to sleep. You can try to fight against biology and check your emails in bed, but the blue light from your phone is telling your brain to stay awake.
Make sure any electronics like your smartphone are either dimmed, switched to night shift or positioned away from your face. If too much daylight strays through your windows during your sleeping hours, an eye mask or blackout curtains are inexpensive investments.
While a dark bedroom is ideal for sleeping, it does increase your risk of falling. Keep a lamp, flashlight, or a red night-light nearby in case you need to get out of bed.
Here’s a handy list from Dr. Chatterjee you can download as a reminder:
(Don’t) Bring the Noise
One of the most common sleep disruptions is noise – a loud car, noisy neighbor, or snoring partner is sure to keep you from drifting off. Heavy curtains dampen outside noise, and a white noise machine can add a calming touch to your bedroom.
This also goes for audio sources under your control. Try to avoid watching loud movies late into the night and save the serious discussions for the morning.
Get the Right Mattress for You
Your sleep quality and habits will only be as good as the mattress you rest on. Upgrade your mattress if you wake up with back pain, feel pressure points on your body through the mattress, or feel the mattress jostle when your partner moves in their sleep.
We’d also like to mention that Purple, an online mattress company, helped us put this sleep guide together.
While we don’t officially endorse their products, we do think this advertisement is pretty clever:
Be Sheet Smart
Sheets are one of the easiest ways to customize your sleeping space. If you overheat while sleeping, try percale or cotton sheets which can feel cooler.
Satin and flannel are better for people who prefer to feel warmer while sleeping.
Whatever fabric you pick, sheets should be laundered regularly to maintain them and keep your bed a safe, clean place to rest. Part of improving your sleep habits is finding what works best for you.
Proper Pillows will Save Your Neck
No one likes waking up with a kink in their neck from a lousy pillow. Whether you prefer soft or firm, your pillow should provide proper neck support while you sleep. You should also watch for your pillow losing its shape and construction over time, which is a sign it needs to be replaced.
3. Diet & Exercise
Reduce Food and Drink Before Bed
Spicy, rich, and fatty foods that can give you heartburn or upset your stomach should be avoided before bed. Discomfort from your dinner will keep you awake and diminish your quality of sleep.
Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and tobacco are also things to limit before you hit the hay. Caffeine and sugar act as stimulants, making it harder to fall asleep. Alcohol and tobacco may make you feel relaxed – and even sleepy – but can keep you from sleeping deeply. Part of improving your sleep habits is getting quality sleep, not just quantity.
Eating and drinking large quantities is another thing to avoid before bedtime. A snack before bed is fine, but large meals too late in the evening can make drifting off impossible. Falling asleep after drinking too much liquid can cause you to have to get up throughout the night to use the restroom, which will also impact your sleep quality.
Here’s a list of the common food culprits to avoid prior to sleep.
Use Your Energy Stores with Exercise
- Deeper sleep: boosting immune function, cardiac health, and more
- Increase in the amount of quality sleep
- Reduced anxiety and stress
Going for a walk, gardening, or doing chores around the house are good ways to get your body moving to improve your sleep quality.
A lack of quality sleep can lead to a negative impact on health, especially in seniors. Sometimes all that’s needed is a small change to create the perfect conditions for rest.
Improve These Three Areas and Enjoy Better Sleep
Losing sleep while caring for a loved one? Learn more about how Overnight Care can help.
For further research, here are Purple’s tips for seniors to get the best night’s sleep possible.
About our Co-Authors
Purple exists to help people feel better. From our innovative comfort technology to our entertainingly informative advertising, we strive to bring relief from the discomfort, the boring, the outdated, and the mundane. Ultimately, we endeavor to change the lives of one billion people with our revolutionary Smart Comfort Grid™.