Had a rough night’s sleep? You’re not alone. Around half of all Australians over 55 have some form of sleep problem.
But the good news is there are steps you can take to help you sleep soundly, according to the chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, Emeritus Professor Dorothy Bruck.
“Part of dealing with sleep problems is realising that this is quite normal as we age,” said Professor Bruck. “Your sleep does become a bit more fragmented as you get older. The problem is really if the lack of sleep affects you the next day”
As we age our body makes less melatonin (the hormone that promotes sleep) so its more difficult to get off to sleep.
Other factors that may interfere with sleep include hot flushes in post-menopausal women, the need to go to the toilet in the night and medical problems such as arthritis that make it difficult to stay in one position for the whole night.
Many diseases can also make it harder to sleep, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease and lung diseases.
Some sleep disorders are more common in older people, like sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder. Insomnia is seen in four in 10 older people. But there are things you can do to improve your sleep.
- Keep regular sleep hours. Go to bed around the same time every night and get up the same time every morning. Regular sleep habits strengthen the internal body clock’s sleep-wake rhythm. Avoid going to bed too early. “People are often just spending too long in bed,” said Professor Bruck.
- Turn off the TV. “People start to get tired in the evening, so they either go to bed too early or fall asleep watching the TV,” said Professor Bruck. “Both are no-nos when it comes to good sleep hygiene.”
- Limit nap time. Around four in 10 older people nap once a day. Professor Bruck advises just taking a 20-minute nap, and no later than after 4pm. Note: Sleep needs and patterns change with age and circumstances.
- Take regular exercise. “Studies have shown how important physical activity is in getting good sleep, particularly for insomniacs,” said Professor Bruck.
- Try mindfulness. Download free apps such as Smiling Mind and Breathe2relax.