Although most of us experience the occasional night when we find it hard to drop off, or wake up during the night, insomnia is different. This is when a person has difficulty with falling asleep and staying asleep on a regular, persistent basis. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders in older people, and it can make day-to-day living tough. Consistent, low-quality sleep can have a detrimental effect on general health and wellbeing.
As we get older, our bodies don’t process the sleep-wake systems as well as they used to, largely due to hormonal changes, relating to melatonin in particular. Ageing adults tend to experience shorter non-rapid eye movement stages of sleep [NREM] which makes them more likely to wake up throughout the night. This can cause them to feel tired and lethargic in the morning and continue to feel groggy during the day.
If Insomnia is something that you or a loved suffer from, keep reading. We’ve put together some self-help measures to put into practice…
How diet and lifestyle can affect sleep
Before we delve into bedtime practices, it’s worth looking at the two daytime factors, diet and exercise, that affect our sleep the most.
- Avoid big meals or spicy food before bedtime since both of these can affect digestion, and cause discomfort that inhibit sleep. Try making dinner a lighter meal and finish eating at least three hours before bed.
- Skip caffeine - don’t worry, we don’t mean all the time! But try and limit or exclude caffeine (including fizzy drinks, tea, and coffee) late in the day.
- Many of us feel peckish right before bedtime. If so, have a light snack such as a banana, warm milk, or some yogurt.
- Incorporate some aerobic activity into your day such as swimming, dancing, golfing, cycling, or walking. A recent study found that aerobic exercise resulted in the most dramatic improvement in the quality of sleep in older people, including those living with insomnia. If mobility issues are a factor, speak with a health professional to see what activities could safely be included in a daily routine.
Creating a better environment for a good night’s sleep
Making the bedroom a peaceful, welcoming place, and getting into the right mood for sleep before bedtime may all help.
- Turn off the TV, and digital devices, at least an hour before bedtime. Avoid reading from a backlit device at night since blue light can interfere with sleep patterns: switch to a book or an eReader that does not emit glare.
- Make sure the bedroom is a sleep haven. Make it welcoming and peaceful by keeping the lights dim, and a slightly cooler temperature. If surrounding noise is an issue, try using a white noise machine or earplugs. Similarly, if it’s not possible to make the room dark enough use a sleep mask.
- If possible, try to use the bedroom for sleeping only, so the brain starts to associate it with sleep (this means avoiding using a TV/computer, or phone in the bedroom). If your loved one’s accommodation means this is impossible, try zoning the room so that the TV or other distractions are in another area, with the actual bed and surroundings more peaceful.
- Move any clocks (digital or manual) out of view to avoid being distracted by watching the minutes ticking by, which can really increase stress and anxiety about missed sleep.
- Develop a soothing bedtime routine, to relax the body and mind, such a calming bath, gentle music, or meditation.
- Try to get up at the same time each day. It can take a bit of patience as your body adjusts to the new routine, but it has proved beneficial for many people.
- Most importantly, try not to worry about getting back to sleep if you wake up, as the stress of this can actually encourage your body to stay awake. When you go to bed, make relaxation, rather than sleep, your goal, as it puts less pressure on yourself.
Remember, you can always book a call with our Speak to an Expert service who will listen to your concerns and provide some general advice. However, if you have concerns about your loved one’s health and wellbeing it might be an idea to encourage them to visit their GP, offering to accompany them if that would help.