Welcome news on sleep and aging. A study that included over 150,000 adults concluded that sleep gets better as you get older.
The new report found that many of those in their 80s report fewer complaints about sleep compared to their younger counterparts. So getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have worse sleep or be tired during the day. If you do feel like this for four weeks or more, check with your doctor as a medical issue might be causing your problem.
Sleep disorders are easier to treat if you recognize them early enough.
While the findings relied on self reports and not objective observations of quality of sleep and the length of sleep, researchers were surprised by the findings. They expected to see sleep disturbances and tiredness in the daytime go up with age.
What they found was the opposite.
As part of the study, participants were questioned on how well they slept and if they felt tired during the daytime. Those who had problems with their health, or were depressed were more likely to report sub par sleep. More women reported sleeping troubles than men. There was an increase in reported sleep issues during midlife – especially among women – however sleep disturbances came less often as study participants grew older.
While specific sleep issues might get worse with age, it’s not a normal part of aging to have more disrupted, less restorative sleep. Of course it’s also important to practice good sleep habits – creating a quiet, comfortable sleeping space, avoiding caffeine, exercise and naps too close to bedtime, and ensuring that you set a regular time to go to bed and get up – even on weekends, holidays and vacation.
You need to know how much sleep your body actually needs to function at its best, Not surprisingly sleep requirements are different for everyone, with most of us needing somewhere around 8 hours a night. To find your own personal number, sleep until you wake up without an alarm and count the hours, this is very likely the right amount of sleep for your body.
The other thing to understand about sleep involves melatonin a hormone known to regulates the sleep/wake cycle and the fact it can be controlled by exposure to light.
Your brain makes fewer hormones in the daylight and more when it’s dark in the evening. But many parts of our modern lives disrupt this natural cycle – long days under office lights, bright lights from TVs, computers and handhelds at night can stop the normal production of melatonin. To help yourself you need to work to align your body with the natural light/dark, wake/sleep cycle… this can mean getting outside more often during daylight hours, unplugging at night.
It’s also important to unwind and de-stress before that regular bedtime you’ve established. Take a bath/shower, do a quiet, calming hobby, listen to music. Doing these types of things sends a signal to the brain – it’s time to slow down now. Experts also suggest to improve your sleep you make changes to both your eating and exercise (just 20-30 minutes a day) habits – by avoiding these activities in the 2 – 3 hours before bed.
Your overall stress level is so important to how you sleep. You’ll need to get anxiety as well as stress in hand if they are an issue in your life. Try writing down what’s keeping you up to identify common themes. You might need to train yourself to redirect your thoughts, to logically evaluate worries and to let go of simmering angers for your own good. If stress becomes too much for you, find someone to help you.
If you’ve tried all this and are still worried about the links between sleep and aging it’s time to be evaluated for a sleep disorder through professional treatment.