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Improving Sleep in Older Adults: 4 Ways Seniors Can Develop Better Sleep Hygiene

Too many seniors are missing out on a good night’s sleep, which is impacting their overall health and wellness. TheKey is here to help with the tips and tools for improving sleep in older adults, including a personal sleep tracker.

Older man getting quality sleep.

Sleep is one of the cornerstones of health, yet many seniors are not getting enough of it. All adults, including seniors, need at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night, however, a 2012 study found that 40-50% of people over the age of 60 are struggling with falling asleep and staying asleep. So if you have been living with disrupted sleep, don’t feel like you’re alone. TheKey is here to help with guidelines for improving sleep in older adults, including a free Sleep Diary, developed by our Head of Clinical Development and Operations, Dr. Shadi Gholizadeh, to help seniors track their sleep quality and routine. While there are changes to sleep architecture with age, aging itself does not necessitate a decline in sleep quality. Seniors (and their caregivers) can use these guidelines and the Sleep Diary to build a path to better sleep.

As we age, quality sleep may increasingly feel like a luxury, but it’s crucial for our health. During a restful night, our bodies undergo repair and prepare physically and mentally to embrace the challenges for the next day. Adequate sleep is one of the most important ways to improve your health as you age. And it’s free! Here are 4 ways in which you can improve the quality of your sleep:

Create the Right Environment for Sleep

Consider establishing a sleep routine and environment that mimics the natural conditions our bodies thrive in.

You’re likely to sleep best when:

● In the dark

● At a cooler temperature

● Going to bed at the same time every night (like the sun does!)

● Getting up at the same time every day (because the sun doesn’t sleep in!)

● Not overstimulated in the evening

● Only using the bed for sleeping (and not for working or eating!)

The natural sleep pattern of humans is your guide to better sleep.

Prioritize Good Sleep Hygiene in Your Daily Habits

The instinctive human rhythm is to be active during the day. That is when we exercise our brains, eat our bigger meals, meet with friends and family, and are exposed to the bright light of the sun. During the evening is when our body needs to slow down, eat smaller meals, and turn down the lights as we prepare to sleep.

Evidence shows that adding these habits to your life can improve your sleep quality:

Exercise regularly, but ideally not within 3 hours before bedtime.

● Expose yourself to bright (preferably natural) light first thing in the morning. Greet the sun to start your day.

● Make sure you are eating enough high-nutrient foods throughout the day. This will give you energy for the daytime, and help your body rest peacefully at night.

● Connect with other people. Loneliness and isolation can trigger feelings of anxiety that make it difficult to sleep.

As we age, we may need more help implementing new routines. If energy and mobility are limited, exercising regularly, making nutritious meals, and connecting with others can be difficult habits to maintain. Enlisting the help of a caregiver can ease the load of adhering to a new routine, so you can focus on feeling well-rested. Remember, you will sleep better with your mind at ease.

Remove the Blockers to a Good Night of Sleep

Although your body is hardwired to be ready to sleep at night, much of what we do during the day can make it difficult to sleep. A big factor in improving sleep for older adults is eliminating the habits in our daily routine that will keep us up at night. But instead of fighting your body, work with it and remove these sleep obstacles.

These behaviors tend to decrease both the amount and the quality of sleep you will get:

Consuming caffeine late in the day. For some people, this might mean no coffee, tea, energy drinks or dark chocolate after lunch!

Eating a heavy meal less than 3 hours before bed. When your body is working on digesting, it is unable to switch to rest and relax mode.

Drinking alcohol in the evening. A drink may make you feel sleepy, but it will interfere with your sleep quality.

High levels of stress. Your body and brain need to take a break. High stress levels can keep your brain firing all night. Practicing mindfulness and creating a calming routine before bed can help you relax at the end of the day.

Use of screens and devices an hour before bed. The light and the stimulation from your phone, computer, or television will drastically impair your sleep quality. Exposure to bright light can reduce the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep.

Unmanaged pain. Your body is unable to settle down when your pain receptors are triggered. You may need to consult your doctor to find the cause and treatment. Home care services are available to help with medication and appointment management.

Use a Sleep Diary

Sleep Diary for seniors from TheKey.

You will know when you didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Your body tells you that you are tired. But how often were you up at night? Is there a link between that long nap at 3 pm and your inability to sleep now? Could the glass of wine in the evening be causing you to toss and turn? Now that you know the general habits to build or avoid, you can apply them to your personal goals. A sleep diary, also called a sleep tracker, is a vital tool for discovering what is keeping you up. As a famous business quote states, “You can’t change what you don’t measure.”

This is the hidden power behind tracking your sleep. You discover the cracks. You can have those “aha!” moments that show you what impacts your sleep. When you know what the problem is you can start working on a solution.

Dr. Shadi Gholizadeh, TheKey’s memory care specialist, developed the Sleep Diary with the goal of improving sleep in older adults. Here’s how it works:

Write down your sleep goals. These can include having more energy during the day or being able to wake up earlier.

Record your routine and sleep quality. In the mornings, rate your quality of sleep from the night before, and note your intentions for the day. In the evenings, write down your activities during the day, and how you feel before going to bed. Do this every day for at least one week.

Analyze your Sleep Diary data. How often were you feeling well-rested? What activities were more consistent with better sleep, and with poorer sleep? Sometimes, the answer is clear: maybe you just need to eat dinner a little earlier or stop watching TV so late. Other times, you may need to consult a doctor for more insight.

You can download the Sleep Diary here for free!

When you go to see your doctor, you will have clear examples of how you are sleeping. This can allow your doctor and your caregivers to help you set up a better sleep routine so you can meet your sleep goals.

When it comes to improving sleep in older adults, consistency is key. Knowing which habits are helpful or harmful can help you incorporate better sleep hygiene into your daily routine. But you don’t have to do the work alone. The Sleep Diary can provide insight into how you are sleeping and you can use it to track changes in your sleep quality when developing a new routine. TheKey has trained caregivers who can assist with setting up a consistent routine that works for you. They can help you with exercise, meals, getting out, medications, and appointment reminders so that all you need to focus on is feeling well-rested.

Wouldn’t it be such a relief to always get a good night’s sleep? Sounds like a perfect dream.

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