Gracefully Aging: 8 Sleep Habits for Healthy Aging
Changes in sleeping patterns are a normal part of aging. As we age, our bodies produce lower levels of melatonin, which relatively disrupts our sleep-wake cycles. As a result, older adults are likely to go to sleep earlier, wake up more often, and experience less deep sleep at night.
However, having poor sleep poses risks to seniors. It increases the risk of nighttime falls, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive decline, and mental health problems. According to the National Institute on Aging of the NIH, here are some surefire ways to fall asleep to promote a restful night’s sleep for seniors.
Consume Sleep-Friendly Foods
Foods with naturally occurring components like tryptophan, vitamin B6, calcium, or magnesium boost melatonin and serotonin production, consequently improve our quality of sleep.
For bedtime or midnight snacks, snack on the sleep-inducing foods. Take oats and fruits like cherries, grapes, and bananas as examples. These foods are rich, natural sources of melatonin. Consider chickpeas too as they are rich in serotonin, which is our happy hormone and the chemical precursor to melatonin.
Having sleep-friendly meals is also great not only for seniors but for everyone. You can pair a bowl of lettuce salad with a cup of chamomile tea for dinner. Both are well-known to give off that sedative-like effect when consumed. Another way is to add vitamin B6-rich fish (e.g., halibut, salmon, and tuna) or tryptophan-rich poultry (e.g., turkey, duck, or chicken) to your meal.
Stimulants like coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes can cause a delay in the body’s circadian rhythm, which causes older adults to have more daytime sleepiness, less sleep time, and less REM sleep. Even worse, they can increase the risk for sleep apnea.
Wear Yourself Out
Exercising improves older adults’ sleep continuity and homeostatic and circadian sleep processes. Specifically, aerobic activities can reduce the risks of sleep apnea and decrease excessive daytime sleepiness, especially for those with insomnia.
Do Breathing Exercises
Breathing activities are among the safest workouts older adults can do. Doing so does not only help us activate our body’s natural relaxation response (i.e., a sense of tranquility) but also helps us burn extra fat and improve our blood circulation. Breathing exercises are also helpful for de-escalating emotional behaviors like loneliness and irritability, which is fairly common for seniors.
Enjoy Pre-bedtime Rituals
Research has shown that routine activity patterns and sleep quality are correlated. Bedtime routines allow you to take less time to fall asleep and enjoy better sleep efficiency and quality. It is because a bedtime ritual signals our bodies that it’s time to go to bed, making us drift off easier.
There are several sleep-inducing and relaxing activities that you can choose as a bedtime ritual. For example, you can listen to ASMR videos/tunes or practice relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation and deep breathing mentioned earlier.
Stick to Bedtime Schedule
In addition to pre-bedtime routines, follow a regular sleep schedule. Consistently going to bed and waking up at a scheduled time every single day can improve your sleep quality. Research says changes in our circadian rhythms are the common causes of the reduced sleep quality of older adults, but maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule may counteract it.
Read Printed Materials
Reading can be one of the bedtime rituals that seniors do to drift off easier. Printed materials, in particular, are recommended because reading from any electronic appliance and device before bedtime has been proven to keep people up at night.
Health-wise, reading is a great brain workout for older adults too. It has cognitive benefits that can offset senior moments. Since reading is a mentally stimulating activity, it strengthens the brain’s neural networks. When this happens, seniors become more receptive to learning and memory retention, delaying the degenerative process of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Get Regular Checkups
Sleep difficulties can be symptoms of some serious health problems. For example, sleeplessness is linked to human papillomavirus (HPV). Stress and insomnia are two of their psychological symptoms. Research shows that even a 60-year-old woman, who got a hpv vaccine when she was younger, can still contract HPV and suffer from cervical cancer.
In addition, sleep difficulties increase your body weight, cause type 2 diabetes, and spike blood pressure, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke. All of these can be countered with routine screenings. With this, older adults can deal with potentially severe or life-threatening conditions early on before they take a turn for the worse.
Sleep is very important to an older adult’s optimal health. However, opting for sleep aids and other means to get a shut-eye are not recommended if you are 65 or older. This is because their risks are greater as we age. Instead, the best to safely and effectively manage sleep problems in the long term is by doing behavioral therapies and good sleep habits.