Scientists have discovered that sleep plays a critical role in the body’s immune function, metabolism, memory, learning and other vital functions. Getting a good night’s sleep is key to having a healthy body. Margaret Thatcher only needed 4 hours sleep a night, Barack Obama requires 6 hours but the National Sleep Federation has calculated that adults usually require between 7 and 9 hours a night. Research demonstrates that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood however changes in the patterns of our sleep occur as we age and this may contribute to sleep problems particularly for seniors. Sleep occurs in multiple stages, the sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night and although total sleep time tends to remain constant, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep. One reason proposed for this is that seniors tend to be on more medication as they age and this can impact on their sleep patterns.
Here are some guidelines which could improve your sleep and make a big difference in your quality of life.
- Evaluate your room. Your bedroom should be cool (between 60 and 67 degrees), quiet and free from any light. If your curtains let in too much light consider buying some blackout linings or wearing an eye sleep mask, if the room is noisy consider using ear plugs. Your mattress and pillows must be comfortable.
- Keep to a regular sleep schedule; support your biological clock going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, even if you are tired. This will help you get back in a regular sleep rhythm.
- Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime. Wind down before going to bed. Your body needs to be ready for sleep so for an hour or so before bedtime do some calming activity such as listening to music, having a bath or reading. A relaxing routine, away from bright lights, helps prepares your body for sleep. Simple breathing exercises can help you relax. Breathe using your abdomen not your chest, through your nose for three seconds, and then breathe out for three seconds. Pause for three seconds then repeat. Do this for five to ten minutes if possible.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine and heavy meals in the evening these can all have an adverse effect on sleep patterns.
- Avoid napping for more than 20 minutes; a short nap can be a very effective way of staying alert the rest of the day. A nap of any longer may mean you enter a deep sleep and would result in you feeling even worse on waking up.
- If you have a light supper around 6pm you may get hungry in the night so before going to bed have a sleep inducing snack such as a milky drink.
- Exercise regularly, a brisk daily walk is particularly good. See our recent article on exercise for some good ideas.
If you get to bed and cannot sleep or you wake up in the night and cannot get back to sleep then consider:
- Counting sheep, this is a visualisation exercise that will create a gentle rhythm that may help you to fall asleep by banishing other thoughts and worries.
- Listening to soothing music to give a calm ambience may help you sleep.
- Keep a pad of paper and a pen by your bedside and if you wake remembering something you must do then write it down so you don’t worry about forgetting it through the rest of the night.
- Neutralise anxiety when you cannot sleep, learn to associate your bed with sleeping not sleeplessness. Instead of the self-defeating thought ‘I shall not be able to sleep well every night like a normal person’ think instead ‘Lots of people struggle with sleep from time to time. I will be able to sleep with practice’.
- Natural sedatives such as camomile in the form of camomile tea are renowned for their soothing and sleep inducing effect.
- If having tried these and you still cannot sleep then you might have a sleep disorder and it is advisable to seek advice from your doctor.
I hope these ideas have been of use, our CAREGivers can certainly help their clients with some of these ideas please ring me if you need to discuss anything 01992 666777 or email me [email protected].