Senior Life 101: Sleepless in Silverdale – Part 4

As I conclude my four-part series on the “Importance of getting a good night’s sleep,” I want to focus on two considerations: (1) establishing good nighttime habits, which include our sleep environment, and (2) keeping a regular bedtime routine.

Let’s start with nighttime “habits.”

First, it is recommended that we should “avoid bright artificial lights” at night.  The fact is … artificial lights at night suppress your body’s production of melatonin … the hormone that makes you sleepy. Instead, use low-wattage bulbs (enough, however, to see clearly), and turn off the TV and computer at least one hour before bed.

Second, don’t read from a backlit device at night (such as an iPad).  If you use a portable electronic device to read, use an eReader that is not backlit (i.e. one that requires an additional light source, such as a soft bedside lamp).

Third, make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool, and your bed is comfortable.  I think everyone understands how noise and light can interfere with sleep, but when it’s too warm, that also can impact our ability to sleep.  By the way … if you need a night light for getting up during the night, you might want to consider wearing an eye mask.

Fourth, use your bedroom only for sleep (or sex, of course).  By not working or reading, watching TV, or using your computer in bed, you’ll come to associate the bedroom with sleep.  Then … when you get into bed your brain and body get a strong signal that it’s time to nod off.

Finally, move bedroom clocks out of view.  Anxiously watching the minutes tick by when you can’t sleep is a surefire recipe for insomnia. Light emitted from a clock, telephone, or other device can also disrupt your sleep.  If you have to have an alarm to awaken you, at least turn the device away from your view so that any light that may be emitted will be diminished.

Keeping a regular bedtime “routine” is also a key to getting a good night’s sleep.  So, in addition to developing good “habits,” and keeping the bedroom “environment” conducive to sleep, consider these bedtime routines.

1. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on the weekends.

2. Go to bed earlier.  Adjust your bedtime to match when you feel like going to bed, even if that’s earlier than it used to be.

3. Develop bedtime “rituals.”  A soothing bath or playing soft music can help you wind down.  Relaxation and stress management techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation may take some practice, but their benefits can be substantial.

4. Limit your use of sleeping aids and sleeping pills.  Research has indicated that many sleep aids have side-effects, and are not meant for long-term use.  Although it may be tempting to continue using them, they are crutches that only address the symptoms, not the causes of insomnia.  In fact, sleeping pills can often make insomnia worse in the long run.  As a result, it’s best to limit sleeping pills to situations where a person’s health or safety is threatened.

One final thought.  If your own attempts to solve your sleep problems are unsuccessful, you should definitely contact your doctor.  It may be that your sleep problems are due to such things as a sleep disorder, medication side-effects or interactions, medical conditions or illnesses, or maybe pain.  In any case, your doctor can diagnose the problem, and help you find a solution.

Remember, don’t expect to sleep poorly as you age.  Just as younger adults can solve their sleep problems, so can you.

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