When it comes to sleep and aging, your “Golden” years may be anything but gold! That’s because as you age, several changes take place that may cause your sleep to be less than ideal. First of all, it’s a common misconception that older people don’t need as much sleep as adults who are younger. In fact, older people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, exactly the same as young adults. But because older people so commonly tend to get less sleep than younger adults, sleeping less has unfortunately become accepted as the norm for them.
There are a variety of reasons why sleep quality and quantity decline as you age, including producing less of the sleep hormone melatonin, which causes you to feel sleepy. Stress, which is so rampant right now, can also affect your ability to sleep. Your sleep patterns also change as you age, with most older people reporting more difficulty falling asleep, waking more often during the night and waking up earlier in the morning than younger adults. As you age, you tend to spend less time in deep sleep, which is tied to the production of growth hormone, important for maintaining muscle mass.
Your Biological Sleep Clock Is Ticking
These sleep patterns are directly influenced by a biological clock deep within the brain. This clock controls something called your circadian rhythms, which are 24-hour cycles that influence things like when you feel hungry, the times at which your body releases specific hormones and even when you feel sleepy or when you feel alert. As you age, this part of the brain that houses the biological clock also ages, and it doesn’t function as well as it used to when you were younger.
But there is an interesting thing about this biological clock: it receives some of it’s most powerful cues from exposure to sunlight, which helps to keep your circadian rhythms in sync. This sun exposure comes through the eyes, where light travels through the optic nerve directly to the brain. Many older people do not get sufficient exposure to natural daylight and this is especially true for many older adults who reside in nursing homes or other care facilities or have cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s dementia.
Three Powerful Sleep Tips That Are As Good As Gold
Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to help you sleep better. Here are three of the most practical, powerful and effective sleep tips we know:
One - Spend 35 to 40 minutes each morning getting direct exposure to natural sunlight. Don’t wear sunglasses or a visor. Sunlight which is filtered through a window may not be as effective. Wear sunscreen if you are concerned but morning sun is generally much less intense than later in the day. If you can’t get out, consider getting a sun lamp, which mimics the light wavelengths you need for good health.
Two - Getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to help you sleep better, in addition to being great for your overall health. Just be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime, as this can cause you to have trouble falling asleep. In general, you should avoid really vigorous exercise for at least one full hour before you go to bed. If you exercise outdoors, you’ll also be able to get in your daily quota of natural sunlight.
Three - Having caffeine too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Have a cutoff time for coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages which ideally is four to six hours before your bedtime. If you are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine, then make your cutoff time even earlier, at noon.