Getting older can lead to changes in sleep patterns, but that doesn’t mean that sleep is any less important. It may mean, however, that you need to understand how age can affect sleep and make some changes to help ensure you’re getting enough sleep.
Normal changes in sleeping patterns as we get older can include becoming sleepier earlier, waking up earlier or experiencing less deep sleep. This is due to a drop in melatonin levels as we get older. Despite a myth that older adults need less sleep, most healthy adults (regardless of age) require 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
Are sleep problems a normal part of ageing?
How you feel when you wake in the morning is the best indicator of whether you are getting enough sleep. It’s important to know that waking up tired every day, experiencing disturbed sleep or insomnia symptoms are not a normal part of ageing.
Sleep problems can be due to a number of causes, including:
- Pain or medical conditions
- Lack of exercise
- Menopause and post menopause
- Poor sleep habits and environment
- Lack of sunlight
But there is good news if you are experiencing some of these issues. Improving your sleep habits and addressing any health or emotional issues that could be leading to inadequate rest can help. These measures can help:
- Try exercising during the day to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid using devices at night – the backlit screen can interfere with melatonin levels.
- Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and adjust your bedtime to match when you begin to feel sleepy – even if that’s earlier than it used to be.
- Develop soothing bedtime routines which could include meditation, reading a book, playing relaxing music or taking a bath.
- Minimise drinks before bed to try and avoid waking to use the toilet at night.
What to do if you often wake at night?
First of all, don’t stress. This can make it more difficult to get back to sleep. Try and make relaxation your goal, rather than focusing on sleep itself and you may find it easier to drift back off. If you find yourself awake for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and try a non-stimulating activity such as reading a book or a listen to a guided meditation. If thoughts are running through your head, write them down and postpone worrying about them until the next day.
When to seek further help for sleep problems
If you try these tips and are still finding it hard to get adequate sleep, it can be a good idea to keep a sleep diary and take it to your doctor. Include in your diary any information from the day that could impact sleep, including any caffeine or alcohol intake, exercise, stress levels and lifestyle changes. Your doctor can suggest next steps, which can include referring you to a sleep specialist.