How to Sleep Better and Why it is Important
Finding it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep as you age? You aren’t alone. Brainwave and sleep patterns do not go unaffected during the aging process. While you may have been able to function well on seven hours of sleep in your 30 and 40s, now that you have put a few more decades behind you, chances are you will require close to 9.5 hours or more of sleep a night. This is due in large part to the fact that older people experience fewer and shorter periods of deep REM sleep, so it takes more time to achieve the same amount of quality rest. Circadian rhythms also begin to shift as we age and our natural tendency is to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. If you have watched your grandchild sleep through a parade or wondered how the teenagers in your family can easily sleep till noon, then you have firsthand experience with the changing nature of sleep.
While requiring more sleep isn’t a problem in and of itself, but when compounded with difficulty falling asleep, bedtime can become stressful. The good news is that, once again, the problems associated with falling asleep are mostly biological and completely normal. The bad news is that if you don’t take steps to improve your quality of sleep, you will experience premature aging and more medical problems.
Here are some simple steps you can take to improve your sleep and protect your health:
1. Establish a routine. The absolute best thing you can do to improve your sleep is to go to bed around the same time every night. Your body loves routine and will naturally start winding down in anticipation of bedtime. If you do get tired during the day, try to limit any napping to around twenty minutes so that you don’t risk throwing off your schedule.
2.Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. Although some evening drinks can help you fall asleep, your sleep will not be as restful and you won’t wake up feeling refreshed. If you use alcohol on a nightly basis to fall asleep, as time progresses you will require more and more alcohol to achieve the same effects. As you might imagine, this can quickly become a slippery slope.
3.Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed. Yes, there are way too many fun games available for the iPad. You may have even convinced yourself that you would sleep better if you could just beat the next level, but electronics are counterproductive to sleep patterns. Not only do they keep you wired and alert, light from screens also destroys melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that promotes sleep.
4.Avoid caffeine and heavy meals later in the day. A lot of Americans are used to dinner being their largest meal of the day when it is actually best to start you day with a large meal and end it with something lighter. As we age, our bodies also find it more difficult to metabolize caffeine, which means that it stays in your body longer, preventing sleep. Moral of the story: no heavy meals before bed and try cutting out caffeine earlier in the day.
5.A final way to improve sleep and overall health is to exercise daily. Not only does it relieve stress and tire you out, it is also a keep component to regulating natural functions, like sleep, that can get off kilter.
Having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep may just appear to be an inconvenience at first glance, but it can have far-reaching health consequences. Sleep deprivation can be a contributing factor to most chronic diseases and recent studies have even linked it to Alzheimer’s. Quality sleep acts an internal maid service that sweeps through your brain while you slumber. Throughout the day, your cells naturally release waste. Once you fall asleep, your brain cells shrink by up to 60% allowing more room for cerebrospinal fluid, otherwise known as nature’s Clorox, to move through and clean out built up toxins. The collected waste is sent into your bloodstream and travels down to your liver for the final stage of detoxification. If toxins are allowed to accumulate without being regularly flushed out, they will turn into plaque, which is directly linked to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Essentially, the problem isn’t so much that cells are releasing waste, which is a necessary evil, the real trouble starts when those toxins aren’t adequately cleared out. If we don’t give our nocturnal maids enough time to do their work, we are putting ourselves at risk. The importance of adequate sleep goes beyond the aesthetics of “beauty rest.” We now know that sleep is a key factor in maintaining our brain health.
While there isn’t much you can do about the fact that it may get harder to fall asleep and you may require more sleep, there are simple steps you can take to improve your sleep quality and ward off diseases at any age.