Making sure our Elder relatives get a good nights sleep
It’s true that as we get older we need less sleep than we did in our younger years. For those of us who have had teenagers, the sheer volume of sleep that a young human being needs can be shocking. Sleeping over 10 hours a night is not out of the ordinary for young people. But as we age, we find ourselves sleeping less and less. Part of it is of course the increased responsibility of adulthood, but as we also stop growing our bodies need less and less. For people 65 and older, the CDC recommends 7-8 hours per night of sleep, far less than the 9-12 hours needed for teens.
But even though older people need less hours of sleep per night, it’s important to remember the importance of getting good sleep. A real, solid block of time asleep is crucial to our overall mental and physical health. Waking in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or to get a snack, or just to watch TV, means we can’t get the full benefit of those hours when we are unconscious and resting. Below are a few tips for elders (and their friends and relatives) to get a good night’s sleep.
Turn off the lights
Our bodies and minds are designed to prepare us for sleep when the sun goes down, a callback to our historical origins. Although our homes can be brightly lit (great for the short days of winter!), having such bright lights on in the hour or so before bed can prevent us from being able to get to sleep peacefully. Try dimming the lights or turning a few off as bedtime gets closer.
It's also important to make sure that our bedrooms are suitably dark enough when we go to sleep. Although a reading light might seem cozy if we’re reading a book, having that light on as we go to sleep can make a big difference in our quality of sleep. Make sure the lights are off when you go to bed. A small nightlight that doesn’t shine on our eyelids is fine, but a side table light or ceiling lights can prevent us from falling into a healthy, fulfilling sleep cycle.
A grumbling stomach can certainly keep us awake, and more so for elder people. Having a meal within an hour or two of bedtime can leave us feeling restless and overly active. Make sure to hold off on the snacks and meals as you wind down at the end of the night before bed so your stomach isn't calling to you.
Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine is great during the day to help us stay awake, but in the time before bed it can prevent us from being able to fall asleep peacefully. The same goes for alcohol. Both can make us restless is easily disturbed, setting up an even more difficult time falling asleep than normal. For elders especially, who may already be light sleepers, any sort of chemical effect on the mind can inhibit good sleep.
One of the best ways to keep and maintain a healthy sleep cycle is to make sure bedtime is the same time every day. Everyone has experienced that accidental mid-day nap that stretches too long and makes going to bed at night even more difficult than usual. The same goes for staying up too late. Keeping a healthy, consistent bedtime makes us more mentally prepared to sleep and encourages our minds to rest and prepare for the next day.
We’ve talked many times on our blog about the benefits of exercise. One of the best benefits has nothing to do with muscle tone or physical endurance. Getting exercise during the day can encourage our bodies to sleep soundly and healthily. A large part of exercise is recovering from the exercise, most of which occurs during sleep. Getting in some exercise during the day, even a walk around the neighborhood, can make going to sleep easier and less stressful.
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