March is Sleep Awareness Month and a good time to remind ourselves just how important a good night's sleep can be for our health and overall wellbeing. Making sure we’re getting enough quality sleep becomes even more important as we age because the aging process can produce changes in sleep patterns.
How Much Sleep Should I Be Getting?
The amount of sleep we need varies throughout our lifetimes. Children and adolescents need more sleep than adults. But as adults, including seniors, we need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. What works best for you can depend on many factors, including your waking activity level, diet, and your natural circadian rhythm. Most people can tell when they’re getting enough sleep because they wake refreshed and ready to start a new day.
What Changes as We Age?
Changes in sleep patterns age vary a great deal from person to person. Some people seem to have little or no changes. However, there are some changes that are common among seniors.
- Trouble falling asleep. One study of adults over 65 found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women take over 30 minutes just to fall asleep. If that’s true for you and you’re still getting up at the same time in the morning, that can add up to a lot of lost sleep.
- Waking up more often. Older adults tend to sleep less deeply and are more likely to wake because of a noise, a partner’s movement, or the need to use the bathroom.
- Medications, diet, and exercise. New medications or recent changes in diet and exercise can also affect sleep patterns.
Tips for a Good Night’s Rest
These four tips can help you get to sleep and stay asleep for a refreshing night’s rest:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time as often as possible, even on weekends and vacations.
- Avoid napping. It’s tempting, especially if your nighttime rest wasn’t up to par. But if you can hold off until your regular bedtime, you’re more likely to get to sleep sooner and stay asleep longer.
- Develop a bedtime routine. Take time to relax before bedtime each night. Some suggestions include reading a book, listening to soothing music, or soaking in a warm bath.
- Avoid large or heavy meals. If your evening meal is your largest of the day, it’s best to eat it at least three hours before bedtime. It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine late in the day or in the evening.