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Guide: How To Sleep Well As You Age

 Just as our bodies change as we age, so do our sleeping patterns. You may find yourself becoming sleepy earlier, waking up earlier or sleeping less deeply. While these sleeping habits are to be expected, others such as disturbed sleep, waking up tired every day and other symptoms of insomnia are not a normal part of the aging process. Nevertheless, with these tips you can overcome any age-related sleep problem and get a good night's rest in the process. 

Why getting enough sleep as you age is important

A good night's rest among older adults is important as it helps improve concentration and memory formation. It also enables the body to repair any cell damage that has occurred throughout the day, refreshing your immune system and thus preventing disease. Not getting enough or good quality sleep at night could result in depression, attention and memory problems as well as excessive daytime sleepiness. What's more, insufficient sleep can lead to serious health problems including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems and also breast cancer in women. 
How many hours of sleep you need
Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but most adults require anywhere between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night. How you feel in the morning, however, is more important than the amount of hours you get at night. If you're not getting enough sleep, you'll likely wake up with a feeling of not being rested, or you may feel tired throughout the day. 
The following tips will help you get a better idea of how to improve your sleep at night:
Tip 1: How sleep changes as you age
As you age, your body produces lower levels of growth hormone, decreasing your need for deep sleep. When this happens, your body is producing less melatonin, meaning that you'll likely experience more fragmented sleep causing you to wake up more often during the night. Here's what you should do:
•    Go to sleep earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning;
•    Take more time in bed at night to get the hours of sleep you need, or take a nap during the day. 
While sleep problems occur occasionally, if you experience the following symptoms regularly, you may be dealing with a sleep disorder:
•    Have trouble falling asleep although you feel tired.
•    Have trouble getting back to sleep after you have awakened.
•    Don't feel refreshed after a night's sleep.
•    Feel irritable or sleepy throughout the day.
•    Have difficulty staying awake when sitting still, watching television or driving.
•    Have difficulty concentrating throughout the day.
•    Rely on sleeping pills or alcohol to help you fall asleep.
•    Have trouble controlling your emotions. 
Tip 2: Identifying what is causing your sleep problems
Under most circumstances, insomnia is caused by underlying but very treatable causes. So, identifying all the possible causes, will enable you to treat your symptoms accordingly. Look out for the following signs: 
•    Are you feeling stressed?
•    Are you depressed or feeling emotionally flat or hopeless?
•    Do you suffer from chronic anxiety or worry?
•    Have you recently gone through a traumatic experience?
•    Are you taking any medications that may be affecting your sleep?
•    Do you have a health problem which is interfering with your sleep?
While emotional and psychological effects may affect your sleep, other common problems include: 
•    Poor sleep habits and sleep environment: Irregular sleep hours, consuming alcohol before bed and falling asleep with the television on may all have an impact on your sleep. Make sure that your room is comfortable, dark and quiet too. 
•    Pain or medical conditions: The need to urinate frequently, feeling in pain, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis, nighttime heartburn and Alzheimer's can all interfere with your sleep and should therefore be discussed with your doctor. 
•    Menopause and post menopause: Hot flashes and night time sweats that arise from menopause can interrupt your sleep. Post menopause may also contribute to interrupted sleep. Try improving your daytime habits and pay particular attention to your diet and exercise. 
•    Medications: The combination of drugs as well as their side effects can impair your sleep. If your medication is causing you sleeping problems, speak to your doctor. 
•    Lack of exercise: A sedentary lifestyle can cause you to feel sleepy. Engage in regular aerobic exercises to counteract the problem. 
•    Lack of social engagement: Engaging in social activities can keep your activity up and prepare your body for a good night's rest. Join a seniors group or take an adult educational class if you have more time on your hand. 
•    Lack of sunlight: Sunlight can help regulate your melatonin and sleep-wake cycles. Make it a point to get at least two hours of sunlight each day. 
Tip 3: Improve your sleep habits
Addressing emotional issues will help improve your sleep environment. Try experimenting with the following to determine specific changes that work best to improve your sleep:
•    Don't read from a backlit device at night: Portable electronic devices such as iPads, should be avoided before bedtime. At most, opt for an eReader that is not backlit and one that does not require additional lighting. 
•    Your bedroom should be quiet, dark and cool and your bed, comfortable: Noise, light and heat can also cause health problems. A sleep mask can be used to block any light. 
•    Limit your bedroom space only for sleep and intimacy: Your bedroom should not be the room you work in, watch tv in, or use a computer. Your brain should think of your bedroom for sleep and romance only. 
•    Clocks should be out of view: Just as light can disrupt your sleep, anxiously watching the minutes tick by is bound to cause you sleep problems at night. 
•    Maintain a consistent routine and sleep schedule: Ideally go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. 
•    Block out snoring: If it's what's keeping you up. Try earplugs, a white noise machine or sleep in separate bedrooms.
•    Develop a soothing bedtime ritual: Take a bath, play music or practice relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing to help you wind down. 
•    Take a nap if you feel the need: Naps as short as five minutes may be enough to improve your alertness and certain memory processes. Most people get a good enough nap from 15 to 45 minutes. Anything longer than that can cause you to feel groggy. Napping too late in the day may also disrupt your nighttime sleep. 
Tip 4: Use diet and exercise to improve your sleep
Diet and exercise may have a big impact on how well you sleep at night. Bear in mind the following tips:
•    Limit caffeine late in the day.
•    While it may seem like alcohol makes you sleep, it will actually disrupt sleep. So, avoid any alcohol so late in the day.
•    Have a light snack, including crackers, cereal and milk, yogurt or warm milk.
•    Avoid big meals and spicy foods before bedtime, particularly if they cause you indigestion or discomfort.
•    Limit the amount of liquid you drink before bedtime. 
•    Exercise regularly to overcome sleep problems.
•    Aerobic activity is especially useful as this form of exercise releases chemicals in your body, promoting a restful sleep. Furthermore, according to one study, aerobic exercise resulted in the most dramatic improvement in quality of sleep, including sleep duration for middle-aged and older adults who have been diagnosed with insomnia. 
•    Swimming may also help you sleep better at night. Swimming laps is a gentle and effective way to build up fitness and is great for joints and weak muscles. 
•    Cycling or running is another form of beneficial exercise to help you sleep better at night. Engage in these activities outdoors or on a stationary bike or treadmill. 
Tip 5: Reduce mental stress
Stress and anxiety that has built up throughout the day may interfere with your sleep at night. Learn how to let go of your thoughts and worries with these helpful tips:
•    Keep a journal and write down all of your worries before you go to sleep.
•    Check off tasks completed on your to-do lists, listing your goals for tomorrow then let the thoughts go. 
•    Listen to some calming music.
•    Read a book that makes you feel relaxed.
•    Ask your partner to give you a massage.
•    Talk face to face with a friend about what is troubling you.
Remember also that while it is normal to wake briefly during the night, if you're having trouble falling asleep bear in mind the following tips:
•    Don't stress: Stressing over the fact that you can't get back to sleep will make your body stay awake. Focus on the feelings and sensations in your body instead.
•    Relax: Relaxation should be your goal, rather than sleep. You can also try methods such as deep breathing or meditation without having to get out of sleep.
•    Do a non-stimulating activity: If after 15 minutes you still cannot get to sleep, get out of bed and do something non-stimulating, such as reading a book. 
•    Postpone worrying: If you wake up feeling anxious, make a brief note of it on a piece of paper and postpone your worrying thoughts to the next day. 
Tip 6: Talk to your doctor about your sleep problems
If the aforementioned techniques do not help with your sleeping problems, you ought to talk to your doctor. To help them better understand your situation, take a sleep diary with you - listing when you consume alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, keeping track of your medications, exercise, lifestyle changes and recent stresses. Your doctor may then refer you to a sleep specialist or cognitive behavioral therapist for further treatment. 
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