Sleep hygiene is the practice of “grooming” yourself for sleep every night.
Environment: Make your bedroom safe, dark, cool and comfortable. Turn the clock face away and ban TVs, laptops, and cell phones. If you do get up during the night, don’t turn on any bright lights.
Schedule: Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day. Use very bright lights in the morning. Try not to nap during the day — or take only a 10- to 15-minute nap.
Program: Take a warm bath, listen to soothing music or read something relaxing. Don’t let your mind go into problem-solving mode – focus on good thoughts. If you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something restful in another room.
Food and Drink: Avoid alcohol close to bedtime, caffeine in the afternoon, nicotine at all times, and exercise within three hours before bed. Don’t eat too close to bed time, but do have a light snack if you are feeling hungry. Avoid fluids at least two hours before bedtime.
Many people believe that seniors don’t sleep as deeply as they once did because they need less sleep as they get older. But this common myth isn’t true. Seniors need about eight hours of sleep every night for optimal functioning of mind and body — the same amount as younger adults. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Senior Health department concurs.
What is a sleep disorder?
A sleep disorder is something that interferes with normal sleep patterns: trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, or not sleeping deeply. Disorders include insomnia, breathing problems and movement disorders.
Not all sleep disorders are as obvious as insomnia. Signs of sleep disturbance include morning headaches, loss of appetite, not feeling rested in the morning and fatigue throughout the day. An occasional restless night may be normal. But persistent poor sleep that lasts for two weeks or more should prompt a trip to the doctor.
Diagnosis and treatment
Most primary-care physicians and gerontologists can diagnose and treat common sleep disorders. Sleep centers do more in-depth testing. Doctors design various treatments depending on test results. Treatments go beyond just a sleeping pill. Relaxation techniques, light therapies, and cognitive therapies can improve sleep patterns.
Poor sleep is not a “normal” consequence of aging. It is a serious health concern. As health care professionals focus more attention on the problem, look for new and better therapies.