It’s recommended that adults try to sleep for around seven hours a night. However, as you get older, this can become increasingly more difficult. Often things beyond your control, such as external noise and uncomfortable sleeping conditions can have an impact on this, resulting in a restless night, but when this becomes more frequent it can take its toll on your physical and mental wellbeing.
“It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age”, shares The Sleep Council, an organisation that aims to raise awareness of the importance of a good night’s sleep. “It’s not about needing less sleep, but, unfortunately, as we get older, sleep quality declines and we experience a change in sleeping patterns – whether that’s more frequent waking in the night, loss of non-REM sleep or more daytime napping.”
If you regularly find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, it may be time to make some alterations to the way you sleep. Discover some of the biggest factors that may be affecting your quality of sleep below.
Changes to your body clock
The Alaska Sleep Clinic, a diagnostic test centre for sleep disorders, says that one of the biggest contributing factors to loss of sleep can be due to changes with your body clock. “Most people spend much of their lives with a circadian rhythm that ticks along at an even, healthy pace. Later in life, however, this internal clock can begin to lose its consistency. As a result, older adults sleep fewer hours. They often become tired earlier in the evening than they used to while waking up earlier in the morning. They also may experience a decline in cognitive function during the evening.”
“There is a change in the body clock in later life”, informs Sleep Kick, a website that aims to help you develop better night routines to encourage sleep. “The sleep hormone, melatonin, is released earlier in the evening in older adults meaning earlier bedtimes. This becomes a problem as many people are in the routine of heading to bed later - accommodating evening activities such as watching a show, seeing friends or reading. This frequently results in napping which then reduces one’s ability to fall asleep at night. It also makes for less time spent asleep as the change in body clock means earlier wake-up times.”
Snoring and sleep apnea
We spoke to Adrian from Snorer, a website providing information about snoring, for some more insight into how snoring can mean more than just noise pollution: “Snoring blights lives, increasingly so as we age. The snorer is ridiculed and unwelcome to stay over or share a room. Worse still the drowsy snorer is photographed and shamed having fallen asleep in various ‘funny’ places. Sound familiar?
“But did you know there are dedicated medical (and dental) professionals devoting their waking hours to help you sleep silently and well, to help you feel refreshed and alive each morning? Daytime drowsiness or sleepiness is NOT something that goes with age. Just like snoring, it deserves professional assessment, diagnosis and treatment.
“Waking up alone is not a solution to problem snoring. And I’m sure you know that ‘cures’ for snoring are one of the oldest con-tricks out there (don’t waste money on gumshields, sprays etc. from the pharmacy). Instead, work with the medical and dental professionals that you trust to care for you. And wake up refreshed WITH your partner smiling.”
You’ve increased your caffeine intake
Brittney Stefanic Sleep Consulting believes that caffeine can reap havoc with your sleep schedule: "Caffeine impacts each person differently depending on how the body metabolizes the compound. For some adults, it is necessary for caffeine consumption to taper off at least 8 hours before the desired sleep time. For others, this limit is substantially less. Take note of when you are consuming caffeine and the impact it may be having on your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep."
Bright screens are distracting you
Dr Antonio Culebras spoke to us about why it is imperative to avoid bright lights before bed: “Bright lights, if over 500 lux in intensity, will modify the 24-hour sleep/wake circadian rhythm. When a person is exposed in the evening or at night before 04.00 AM to a bright light, the sleep block is delayed while alertness is prolonged. This phenomenon is used in the treatment of a condition affecting mostly old people which consists in the early onset of sleep, for instance, 20.00 or 21.00 hours and is called Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder. The exposure to a very bright light of 5,000 lux over 15-20 minutes in the evening will delay the onset of sleep. The opposite condition, Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, affects mostly young persons and consists of the inability to fall asleep before 02.00 AM. This disorder is treated with exposure to very bright light in the morning. Individuals who use tablets or phones with a bright screen late in the day receive enough light to delay the onset of sleep. Finally, everyone knows that in the winter birds and mammals retire early to sleep, when the daylight goes down and do the reverse in the summer. They also have a sleep/wake circadian rhythm but no tablets!”
The blue light emitted from electronic devices such as phones, tablets and TVs prevent the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone, and can make it harder to fall asleep at night. In order to best prepare your body for sleep, it is recommended that adults spend at least one hour before in a screen-free environment. During this "power down hour" the brain and body have an opportunity to shut down and gear up for a great night of sleep. When in doubt, turn off the screens and pick up a book before bed, instead!
You’ve been feeling stressed
“Stress and anxiety are one of the contributing factors to lack of sleep”, The Sleep Council mentions. “Whether it’s a jam-packed pressurised work schedule or worrying about finances, it tops the poll when it comes to keeping us awake at night. Stress causes the heart rate to go up and in turn, the mind starts to ‘race’. This causes the brain to become too alert and stimulated to sleep. Once this pattern sets in, bedtime can become a thing of anxiety.
“Some of the major problems that we may face in life can cause us emotional or mental tension that can lead to insomnia. There are some basic practical solutions for dealing with stress and worry, depression and financial uncertainty. Try writing down what’s worrying you or even talk through your issues with someone. Sometimes unburdening your thoughts can lift a huge weight off your shoulders. Learn to relax – meditation is a great tool for relaxing body and mind. As always try to stick to regular bedtime hours, make sure your bedroom environment is right for sleep and unwind properly.”
Restless legs are hard to settle
“We all have our own personal preferences to relax our minds and bodies before bed. The important point is to find out what works for you.” A warm (not hot) bath is great. Relaxing music, yoga, dealing with worries and distractions several hours before bedtime, reading a book, and warm drinks are also on the list. Keep to a regular nightly routine as this helps signal to your brain and body that it’s time to settle you down for the night. If you have trouble unwinding it might due be your use of technology late at night. Remember to Switch tech off at least an hour and a half before bed”, we’re informed by Dave from The Sleep Site, a place dedicated to helping those with sleep-related issues.
Painful conditions make it hard to relax
“As we get older, we often need to change our sleep position as new health problems interfere with our sleep”, shares Dave from The Sleep Site. “Those with breathing issues find sleeping on their back with a plumped pillow can help. Those who sleep face down will often need to change position as our neck naturally stiffens as we get older.”
If you’re finding that you need the aid of an at-home stairlift to get around, it might be worth re-thinking your sleeping position, or even replacing your old mattress. Recommended guidelines from the Better Sleep Council suggest refreshing your mattress every seven to ten years, with your pillows every one to two.
“My recommended sleep position is side-lying,” Dave continues, “preferably on the left-hand side (with a pillow under the top knee to maintain the posture through the night). This position puts the spine in a healthy neutral alignment and is great for back pain sufferers. Lying on the left-hand side specifically helps detoxification of the brain, improves blood flow from the heart, facilitates lymphatic drainage, and helps elimination from the large intestine into the colon.”
Time 4 Sleep also advise changing your bedding for the best results: "Unsurprisingly, your bed can have a significant impact on your the quality of your sleep. If you want to improve your nightly rest, looking at what you sleep on should be your first step. Studies have shown that stress levels can be reduced by investing in a new mattress. Many of the things that contribute to an increase in stress levels – nervousness, anxiety and pain and discomfort throughout the day – are alleviated by a better night’s sleep. A fresh, firm mattress can make it easier to nod off at night, making you feel better throughout the day. Reviewing the rate at which you wash your bedding could also lead to a better night’s sleep. Bedding you’ve slept in for more than two weeks can feel itchy and uncomfortable at night, and it could be due to the dust mites that are housed in and on your bed (this can be particularly problematic for asthma sufferers). Wash your sheets and pillowcases frequently to keep irritable dust mites to a minimum."
You’re napping throughout the day
Daniel from Sonic Sleep Coach shares some insightful information about naps: “It is important to know what type of nap to take based on your prior sleep debt and your 24-hour circadian rhythm. It is typically best to nap during your circadian dip, which happens about 1-3 hours after lunch. If you need a burst of energy, take a 10-25-minute power nap during this time. If you are very sleep deprived, recover with a replacement nap for a full 90-minute sleep cycle. It is not recommended to take a 35-80-minute nap because it runs the hazard of waking you up in deep sleep. This can result in brain fog, also known as sleep inertia. If you anticipate sleep depriving yourself the next day, take a prophylactic nap to reduce the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. However, if you have problems falling asleep, it is not recommended to take a nap because naps can make it more difficult to consolidate your sleep at night. “
Alaska Sleep Clinic is honored to be named a Top 5 Sleep Education Website in the World, with over 5 million visitors to www.AlaskaSLeep.com in 2018. This news article is from Handicare UK, with contributions from ASC Marketing Director Jennifer Hines. Articles that appear on their website are for information purposes only.
For help with your chronic sleep issues, contact Alaska Sleep Clinic today and speak with one of our board-certified sleep specialists.