Your sleep cycle changes over the years. It’s not the same at 20 as it is at 60. This means that the elderly tend to have problems with their sleep.
The amount of sleep you get decreases as you get older. This change occurs since infancy. However, sleeping properly is crucial whatever your age. “Sleeping well boosts your immune system and mental health. This is essential in the midst of a health crisis,” highlights Kenia Morales Bermeo, a specialist in sleep disorders.
According the National Institute of Geriatrics, these are the main age-related changes to sleep that have been demonstrated in sleep studies:
A reduction in total sleep time
A decrease in sleep efficiency
An increase in waking episodes
Maturity of the brain
“These changes are due to maturity of the brain. In a young brain, new neurons grow during sleep, your memory is consolidated, and all systems are cleaned and restored. But the growth of new neurons is no longer possible in a mature brain and restoration is no longer 100%. So sleep time is reduced,” emphasizes the specialist in sleeping well.
Here are some symptoms that could occur due to “bad sleep hygiene”: headaches, a dry mouth, exhaustion, tiredness, fatigue, lack of concentration, irritability, need for sleep, and falling asleep during the day. However, whatever your age, there’s a way to improve your quality of sleep.
So, here are 12 rules the specialist lists for getting a good night’s sleep in old age:
1. Keep regular hours
Sleep and wake up at the same time. If necessary, set alarms. Do the same with meal and exercise times. The brain learns: it synchronizes our biological rhythms with the schedules that we establish.
2. Get at least 5 hours’ sleep
According to sleep experts, it is healthy to sleep more than six and less than nine hours. But this number changes in old age, and it’s recommendable to sleep at least five hours.
Naps are allowed, but they should be before six o’clock in the evening and last only 30 minutes.
4. Regular exercise
Exercise in the morning or afternoon, but not after six o’clock in the evening. Exercise facilitates the release of many hormones and neurotransmitters that don’t help sleep, so it’s not recommended to do it at night.
5. A healthy diet
Avoid taking stimulants at night. Say goodbye to coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and tobacco. If you can’t avoid them, then only take them up to six o’clock as well.
6. A comfortable room
Your room should be dark and quiet, without lamps and LED lights. For those who share a room, the use of earplugs and eyeshades is recommended.
7. A relaxing routine before bed
Develop a personal hygiene routine, such as putting on your pajamas, sitting down to read, praying, bathing, washing your feet, meditating, or listening to music. This is how you tell your brain that it is time to sleep.
8. Use your bed for sleeping only
You cannot use your computer, your cell phone, work, eat, or think in bed. This is because your brain associates bed with sleep, so if you do something there other than sleep, at night your brain won’t know why you are there.
9. Avoid thinking over problems or concerns
While you are in bed, avoid thinking about your worries or problems because you will generate a negative association. This means your brain associates bed with something negative, something that causes you stress and it therefore becomes more difficult to sleep.
10. Light during the day; darkness at night
During the day, have exposure to natural light and total darkness at night.
11. See your geriatric specialist to control your medication
Avoid the use of benzodiazepines and other drugs that affect sleep.
12. If, after following the 11 points above, you still have trouble sleeping, go see a specialist.
You can also take this sleep test from the UNAM Sleep Disorders Clinic.