Children and young adults seem to have no trouble sleeping. So why does sleep seem so elusive as we age? It hardly seems fair that at a time in life when we should be able to relax in the evening and drift off, it can be challenging to get the recommended 7–8 hours of sleep for adults 65 and older.
The importance of sleep can’t be overstated. Sleep impacts every part of our body — inside and out — and not getting enough good sleep can take a toll.
Sleep and brain function
Poor sleep can impair our ability to think clearly, to concentrate, and can also impact memory. People who get enough sleep typically feel more “sharp” and in control than those who do not.
Sleep and heart health
Not getting enough sleep has been shown to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and may also increase the likelihood of having a stroke.
Sleep and skin
Not getting enough sleep can cause the body to produce more cortisol, a hormone related to stress that breaks down collagen, one of the primary building blocks for healthy skin. Lack of sleep can cause your skin to lose elasticity and tone and can also contribute to dark circles under the eyes.
Sleep and weight
Lack of sleep is directly related to weight gain. Adults who don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each night are 55% more likely to become obese. Also, when we don’t sleep well, we tend to eat more, which also contributes to weight gain.
Sleep and blood sugar
Lack of sleep has been linked to insulin sensitivity and a negative impact on blood sugar. Many studies have shown a link between inadequate sleep, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes.
Sleep and mental health
Mood and mental health are both impacted by the amount of sleep we get each night. Poor sleep is linked to depression and can make us cranky, short-tempered, and less able to deal with the stresses of everyday life.
4 Steps to Better Sleep
The recipe for a good night’s sleep is simple, but it does take some practice and lifestyle changes to make it happen.
1. The first thing to do — short of going to a sleep clinic — is to have a good idea of the amount of sleep you’re getting each night. The easiest way to do this is with a fitness tracker. Most trackers have a feature that can measure the quantity and quality of your sleep if you remember to wear your tracker to bed. Some models have a feature that will remind you when it’s time to start winding down for the night. Knowing how much you sleep each night is the first step to getting more, and better, rest.
2. Set a schedule for sleep. As you make a schedule for your day and week, be sure to schedule time for sleep too. Try to hit the hay at about the same time each night. If your evenings are a little unpredictable, at least try to get up at the same time each morning. Having a set routine for sleep will make it easier to stick to your plan.
3. Avoid sleep stealers. Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, chocolate, and tobacco can be significant sleep disruptors. Avoiding coffee and tea, sugary treats, and heavy meals late in the afternoon and evening can help you sleep more soundly. Physical sleep stealers like TVs, computers, phones, and tablets that emit blue light are also notorious for robbing us of good quality sleep. Experts recommend shutting down all screens at least an hour before you plan to head to bed.
4. Finally, make your sleep space relaxing and inviting. Many people sleep better in cooler temperatures — know what works for you. Invest in a pillow that supports your sleep style (back, stomach, or side). Keep outdoor light from seeping in and disturbing your slumber with light-blocking curtains.
Getting the right amount of sleep each night takes planning and a little practice, but the result is worth the effort. You’ll likely feel more alert and refreshed each day, and you’ll be contributing to other aspects of your health too. Of course, if you really try and are still unable to improve the amount or quality of sleep you get each night, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.