Sleep and aging

Puppies do it. Kittens do it. People do it. We get older. Puppies become dogs. Kittens become cats. People become crotchety old...er...well, not all people become cantankerous as they get older. We all have seen that, unfortunately, some do.

There are a lot of things that happen to us as we age. Our skin becomes less elastic and it wrinkles. Our hair often turns grey or it falls out. We don’t have the vim and vigor that we had in our twenties. Maybe it’s harder for us to remember things. Let’s face it, getting older isn’t always fun.

Another thing happens as we get older. We have problems sleeping. But why is this? Our trusty pillow and reliable sheets don’t seem to be doing as good a job anymore. Just a few years ago, it seems, your head hit your pillow and you were off to blissful slumber. Now you lay in bed and it takes you what seems like ages to fall asleep. Then, once you are asleep, you wake up multiple times during the night. Or you just wake up early. Too early. You aren’t training for a marathon, so why does your body insist that you are up before the sun is? (If you are training for a marathon, good for you!)

 

Here are a few things that happen to us as we age, often causing changes in our sleep:

Our bodies change - As we get older our hormone levels, including estrogen in women and testosterone in men, change. These hormonal changes could be contributing to the quality of sleep that we are getting.

We don’t get as much exercise - Some people lose the motivation to exercise as they get older. This lack of physical activity could be a factor attributing to how well, or how poorly, we sleep.

We experience more medical problems - Restless leg syndrome, hypertension, and sleep apnea, just to name a few, are more likely to occur when we are older versus when we are young. These, and other, medical issues can often be the culprit behind a lack of sleep.

We take more medications - It’s not uncommon to need additional medicines as we age. As I approached my forties, I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD. This necessitated me being prescribed omeprazole, and the prescription strength is twice as strong as the acid medicine that I could buy over the counter. Sometimes, unfortunately, the medicines we ingest have a negative effect on our sleep.

Our circadian rhythm changes - That internal clock that tells us when to go to bed and when to wake up naturally changes as we age. Generally speaking, as we get older we start wanting to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. If you continually want to go to bed and wake especially early (for example, going to sleep before the sun sets and waking before the sun rises) you might be experiencing what’s known as advanced sleep-wake disorder, something that is more common in older adults.

Our mental health changes - As we age, so do our friends and family. Unfortunately, not everyone leads a long and healthy life. As our friends and family pass on, this and other momentous life changes can lead to depression and other psychiatric disorders, which can weigh on our minds and negatively impact our sleep.

Our daily patterns change - Once retired, many older individuals lack the structure of a workday. Without having as many set plans during the day, it’s harder to maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule. Then without a set schedule, our sleeping may suffer.

Some of the above we have little or no control over. Our bodies are going to change before our eyes, whether we like these changes or not.

What can we do to help counteract any negative impact and sleep better?

Keep a set bedtime - As best as possible, go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.

Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine before bed - The stimulants in these beverages can be keeping us awake, so it’s best to steer clear of them. In fact, we shouldn’t drink too much of any beverage before bed, as the liquids can cause us to need to wake in order to urinate.

Don’t nap during the day - As much as the couch is calling your name, try not to nap which can adversely impact your circadian rhythm and prevent you from falling asleep at night.

Make sure to exercise - Keeping active is important for our physical well-being, but it’s also important to help us get our rest. Just make sure not to exercise too close to bedtime as this can be overly stimulating and it may end up keeping you up at night.

Watch what you eat - Not only will your body be in better physical shape if you make better dietary choices, but watching what you eat and what time you eat certain foods can help you to sleep better at night.

Keep your bed comfortable - Never forget the importance of a comfortable mattress, pillow, and sheets. Don’t be afraid to update your bedroom to give yourself the ultimate comfort which can lead to the best sleep. Have you tried the bamboo bed sheets from Unelma? Now THAT’s what I call comfort!

Getting older isn’t a bad thing. It often means children and grandchildren. It could mean travel and sometimes even great adventure.

Go ahead and embrace your older self. Be grateful for what you have. And train yourself for better sleep. You can do it. After all these years, you’ve earned it.


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