Senior Life 101: Sleepless in Silverdale – Part 3

In last month’s column, I presented the first two “tips” on how to better understand senior sleep challenges.  In this month’s column, I want to continue that discussion with some ideas on how to improve sleep habits.

The fact is that poor sleep habits, including a poor sleep environment and poor “daytime” habits, can be the main causes of low-quality sleep in seniors. In many cases, we develop poor sleep habits over a lifetime, but as people get older, they find they create more and more problems. Fortunately, I believe there are some practical things seniors can do to improve sleep habits.

Start with daytime habits. Be engaged.

Social activities, family, and work can keep your activity level up and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. Try volunteering, joining a seniors’ group or taking an adult education class. There is nothing more stimulating and healthy than engaging your community. Even if you have physical limitations, there are creative activities that you can participate in. Just get involved.

Improve your mood. A more positive mood and outlook can reduce sleep problems. Find someone you can talk to, preferably face-to-face, about your problems and worries. Get your focus off of yourself, and invest time in the lives of others. Worrying and agonizing over your pains and troubles will inevitably result in many sleepless nights. Honestly, worry and a negative attitude lead to an early grave.

Exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins that can boost a positive mood and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. My wife and I have found that our regular exercise routine has significantly improved our nighttime sleep. Even seniors with disabilities can engage in structured exercise programs that can help maintain muscle and body tone, as well as physical well being.

Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. All are stimulants and interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Take naps. According to my sources, people are biologically “programmed” to sleep not only for a long period in the middle of the night, but also for a short period in the middle of the day. Naps can enhance visual, motor, and spatial skills, and have even been shown to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.

So, if you don’t feel fully alert during the day, a nap may be just what you need. For many people, taking a brief nap can provide the needed energy to perform fully for the rest of the day. Experiment with napping to see if it helps you. For example: Naps as short as five minutes can improve alertness and certain memory processes. Most people benefit from limiting naps to 15 to45 minutes. Many people feel groggy and unable to concentrate after a longer nap. I know I do.  By the way, many have discovered that napping early in the afternoon works best, primarily because napping too late in the day disrupts their nighttime sleep.

Another important consideration in our napping is to try to nap in a comfortable environment preferably with limited light and noise.

In next month’s column, I want to look at ways that we can improve nighttime habits, and especially sleep environments, in order to assure the sleep needed as we age.


Carl R. Johnson is the Community Relations Director for Kitsap Alliance of Resources for Elders

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