It’s well known that quality of sleep can have a huge impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, as you get older it can become more difficult to get the quality and quantity of sleep you need. Whilst it’s natural for sleeping patterns to change as you age, problems with your sleep are not a normal part of ageing but something that should be addressed to ensure that you get the good night’s sleep you need.
There are many reasons why you might struggle to get a good night’s sleep, including anxieties over being left alone, sleep apnoea, and movement disorders. It’s also particularly common for people living with illnesses like dementia to struggle to get the quality of sleep they need. Whatever the underlying cause, it’s important that it’s addressed and that the appropriate changes and interventions are taken to ensure that we are well rested. After all, the better we sleep, the healthier we are.
How to get a good night’s sleep
Developing healthy sleep habits can encourage better sleeping. It can often be the case that these approaches will not have immediate effect, so it’s important to be patient and give yourself time to adapt to the changes in routine and environment.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends and when travelling
- Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening – napping later in the day can make it harder to fall asleep
- Develop a bedtime routine – it’s important to relax before you go to bed to help calm your body and mind. You may consider reading a book, listening to soothing music, or taking a warm bath
- Exercise at regular times each day and not within 3 hours of bedtime
The sleep environment
- Avoid watching television, using your computer, or mobile phone in your bedroom – this can make it difficult to fall asleep and the stimulation of television can wake you up even more
- Use your bedroom only for sleeping
- Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature – if it’s too hot or too cold you may struggle to get comfortable.
- Use low lightening in the evenings – high levels of artificial light can suppress the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Consider using night-time light settings on electronic devices
- Block out loud noises, such as a partner’s snoring – if your partner’s snoring keeps you awake, try earplugs or even a separate bedroom to get the sleep you need
- Move bedroom clocks out of view – this will discourage you from anxiously watching minutes pass by and aggravating existing insomnia
- Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime – if you find yourself hungry before bed, have a light snack, such as low-sugar cereal, yogurt, or warm milk
- Limit your liquid intake before sleep – try not to drink too much within an hour and a half of bedtime to avoid waking up repeatedly to use the bathroom
- Do not consume caffeine late in the day – this includes coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, and chocolate
- Avoid drinking alcohol before you go to bed – even small amounts of alcohol actually make it more difficult to stay asleep
- Cut down sugary foods – a diet high in sugar and refined carbs, such as white bread, pasta, or sweets can lead to wakefulness at night and disrupt periods of deep REM sleep
Some people find that mental relaxation techniques can help them drift off to sleep. One such technique is to imagine that each part of your body is completely relaxed in sequence. Start by imagining that your toes are completely relaxed and then imagine that your feet and then your ankles are completely relaxed. You then work your way up the rest of your body until you reach your head. People often find that they fall asleep before reaching the top of their head.
Getting back to sleep at night
Not being able to get back to sleep can create a self-perpetuating cycle of sleeplessness. When you wake up during the night and find yourself struggling to fall back to sleep, it can be worthwhile to try some of the following tips:
- Try not avoid stressing over not falling back to sleep – this encourages you to stay awake. Try and be mindful and focus on the way your body feels
- Try relaxation technique – deep breathing and meditation can be a good way to help rejuvenate your body when sleep evades you
- Give yourself 20 minutes to fall asleep – if you’re still awake and not drowsy, get out of bed do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Try and fall asleep again when you feel sleepier
- Postpone worrying – anxiety can often make it harder to sleep but when possible make a brief note of what is worrying you and deal with it the next day when it will be easier to resolve
When to see a doctor
If you or your loved one are still experiencing sleep problems after trying your own attempts to correct it, you should go and see your doctor. It’s also useful to keep a sleep diary leading up to the appointments. Make a note of the following:
- How much sleep you get
- How often you wake during the night
- What medications you take and when
- When you consume alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine
- When you exercise and what you do
- Recent stresses or lifestyle changes
At this point your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist or prescribe some medication that can help you sleep better and establish a good sleep schedule. Remember, medication should not be used as a long-term solution for curing sleep problems.
Night carer can provide the necessary personal and specialist care you might need throughout the night, including assistance with toileting, medication, and help to prevent falls and accidents. This can give you the peace of mind you need to get a good night’s sleep, knowing that help is on hand if you need it.
SuperCarers can match you with highly experienced, trained, carers who can meet the specific needs of your loved one.