For many, the struggle to nod off is a familiar one. You may have put it down to an annoying disadvantage of ageing and assumed your body needs less sleep now. Older people actually need as much shut-eye as the young but changes to the brain stop them from achieving a deep, refreshing slumber. While you may never sleep like a teenager again, here’s what you can do to catch more Zzz.
1 Go to the bed empty
As we age, we produce less of an anti-diuretic hormone that prohibits the kidneys making as much urine. As a result we may develop nocturia, the need to visit the loo several times during the night. Avoid drinking any sort of fluids two hours before bedtime and use the double-voiding technique. “It means emptying the bladder twice by urinating a second time 10 minutes after the first time,” says Prof Mary Thames, author of Understanding Diabetes.
Cut back on your salt intake — it should be no more than 7-8g a day. This will also reduce your need to visit the loo, Japanese researchers have found out.
2 Sun is your friend
“Older adults produce less melatonin (the sleep agent), so anything you can do to increase its natural production will help,” says sleep expert Christina Melanin. “Melatonin at night is produced after light exposure in the day, so getting out in bright sunlight can increase melatonin concentration. For adults over 50, melatonin can be prescribed by your doctor. Light therapy may help.”
3 Peace of mind is the key
Soothing night-time rituals like taking a bath or receiving a massage can relax your body, but you also need to calm your mind. You could try some yoga asanas before bedtime. Lie on the floor and bring your legs and buttocks up against the wall. This pose calms the mind. Or close your eyes and look up to your “third eye” — the point between your eyebrows. This slows active brainwaves to more relaxed ones. Try these. They work.
4 Stop employing pills
The side-effects of some sleeping pills — lethargy the next day, confusion, constipation and urinary retention — can be serious and can reduce productivity. Opt for a natural sleeping remedy instead — try Valerian Root, a herbal aid known for its sedative effect.
5 Evening Exercise
Moderate exercise can help you sleep, says Prof Paul Gringras, an adviser for a mattress company. “It’s one of the best ‘sleep-medicines’ around. But like all medicines, there is a right and wrong way to use it. “The timing can make a big difference. Exercise in the morning is unlikely to help, and exercise too close to bedtime is likely to cause problems. Try getting 20-30 minutes of exercise that’s moderate for you, between 4pm and 7pm.” Walking or gardening will do.
6 Your Bedroom is your cave
“The cave principle is to keep the bedroom cool, quiet and dark,” says Prof Gringras. “Try to aim for a temperature that’s thermally neutral so your body doesn’t shiver or sweat — 18.5 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius is ideal.
7 Eat Cherries
“Cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep patterns,” says nutritionist Anita Bean. “Researchers found that drinking cherry juice 30 minutes after waking up and 30 minutes before the evening meal boosted sleep by 84 minutes and improved sleep quality in people with insomnia.”
8 Do not Snore!
Snoring can become more common as we age, partly because the muscle tone in the throat decreases, making it more prone to vibration as we breathe, but there are exercises that help. “Using your toothbrush, scrub away at the centre and sides of your tongue for three minutes a day,” says Dr Chris Idzikowski, author of Sound Asleep. “The action triggers the gagging reflex, which has the effect of tensing and releasing your throat muscles and tongue to help strengthen them.” Vitamins E and B5, aloe vera and pectin, also help as these lubricate the soft tissue of the throat.