After a long day of work, household chores, playing with our grandchildren, or catching up with friends and neighbors, most of us enjoy climbing into bed, pulling our blankets over our bodies, and closing our eyes as we drift away to sleep. But as we get older, it can sometimes be hard to fall asleep, and even harder to stay asleep.
We all know how important sleep is to our health and well-being, but many of us struggle with understanding why our bodies don’t cooperate with us. It’s important to know that as we age our sleep patterns naturally change. We often go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. However, just because our sleep patterns change doesn’t mean we should experience excessive fatigue or symptoms of insomnia. If this happens, many people turn to medication sleep aids, but these are only effective for short-term use, and do not promote the deep sleep that our bodies need each night. Fortunately, there are many holistic techniques we can incorporate into our lives to improve our “Sleep Hygiene” and get a good night’s rest.
1. Create a sleep schedule— Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Keeping your sleep schedule consistent will help you fall asleep more quickly and wake up more easily.
2. Create a comfortable sleep environment— Background noise and light can sometimes be comforting but may result in poorer quality sleep and waking up more frequently. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, quiet, and dark. Avoid watching TV right before bed and make sure your TV is turned off during the hours that you sleep.
3. Avoid using stimulants or depressants before bedtime— Things like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can impact our ability to fall asleep and can result in less quality sleep so we wake up groggy.
4. Increase physical activity during the day— More activity during the day gets your body ready for recovery during the night. Try increasing the amount of steps you take during the day or attending a group activity class to get your heart rate up. This will help you drift away to sleep more quickly. The added activity will also benefit your overall health and well-being.
5. Practice relaxing— Before bedtime, do something relaxing—read, take a bath, or meditate. This is not only a great way to prepare for sleep but also promotes positive mental health.
These sleep hygiene techniques are not quick fixes. It can take time for your body to adjust to them and they need to be done routinely to work well. Try one or two of them for a few weeks and see how they work with your lifestyle, then adjust them as you see fit. If you have questions about your sleep habits or think you have a problem with sleep, there are other techniques that your primary care doctor can share with you.
Sleep health is an incredibly important part of our quality of life and should be taken seriously. It’s important to know that if you have any difficulties sleeping, you have options, and you’re not alone in this. Strike up a conversation with family and friends, and consider talking with your primary care doctor if you have questions or concerns.
Adam Eckes, MSW, LICSW, of Iora Primary Care is passionate about health care that honors and integrates the life experiences of each patient. He enjoys exploring and eating all the different foods Seattle has to offer. When not eating, Adam can be found running, watching baseball, or spending time with his wife and his dog, Tully.