If you have teenagers in the house, you know that they have a few special talents – leaving dishes in their room, sassy comebacks and sleeping in until 1pm on Sundays.
It’s been a long time since you could sleep in like that. Ironically, you are more tired than ever. You can fall asleep on the couch after dinner, but by the time you’ve laid down in bed, the sleepiness is gone. Something just isn’t adding up. Why does restful sleep get more elusive the older we get? We spoke with Joyce Lee-Iannotti, MD, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Banner Health in Phoenix, Arizona to get some tips for better sleep as we age.
How much sleep is just right?
“The older you get, the less sleep you need,” said Dr. Lee-Iannotti. “Not only are young kids growing and developing new skills every day. They are also playing from dawn to dusk. It’s no surprise that they would need several more hours of sleep than an adult.” Dr. Lee-Iannotti explained that adults (age 18 to 64) need about 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Surprisingly, studies have shown that seniors (age 65+) may need an hour less. However, it is still very important to obtain adequate amounts of sleep on a consistent basis regardless of your age, as sleep deficiency can have harmful health consequences.
Is getting restful sleep more difficult as we age?
Dr. Lee-Iannotti explained that certain disorders become more common as we age. “Adults tend to be lighter sleepers than children. Your sensitivity to light, noise and temperature is likely contributing to your difficulty with sleep. Additionally, we see a higher likelihood for insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea in aging adults.” These conditions are all treatable. Meet with your Primary Care Physician or a Banner Health expert to get a diagnosis and begin treatment.
Dr. Lee-Iannotti’s 10 tips for more restful sleep
- Be consistent – Even on weekends and on vacation, you should set a consistent bedtime. This is one of the hardest things to do. But if you can be consistent, your body will know when it’s time to sleep.
- No electronics – We’ve heard this one before. Dr. Lee-Iannotti confirmed that the blue light on your phone’s screen will keep you from getting sleepy by suppressing your nighttime production of melatonin. She added that even with “night mode” activated, it’s best to keep all screens out of view.
- Keep it cool and dark – This is your energy company’s favorite tip. Dr. Lee-Iannotti said that ideal sleep temperatures are between 65 and 68 degrees. Lowering your temperature that far in the summer may feel a little excessive. But the point is that a cool, dark room is ideal for sleep. Just imagine you’re a bear, settling in for hibernation.
- Bed is for sleep and sex – If you have a TV in your bedroom, then your body is likely confused about what your bed is for. Reading, watching TV or scrolling YouTube are activities you should do on the couch, so that your body knows that bedtime is sleep time.
- No pets allowed – Ever wake up to a 15-minute licking session? Even tiny cats and dogs can be disturbing to your deep sleep. Dr. Lee-Iannotti recommends keeping pets outside the bedroom so that you can rest. If banishing your pet breaks your heart, at least make them their own comfortable bed on the floor.
- Eliminate disturbances – Does your partner go to bed much later than you? Do they snore or steal the sheets? Dr. Lee-Iannotti reminded couples that poor sleep habits can cause a lot of anxiety and tension. If you are really struggling to sleep, separate beds (or even rooms) may be the best thing you can do for your relationship. Plus, distance makes the heart grow fonder, right?
- Don’t eat or exercise before bed – Try to limit exercise and food within four hours of bedtime.
- Bed is for the tired – If you’ve been lying awake in bed with no distractions for more than 20 minutes, you might not be tired yet. Dr. Lee-Iannotti recommended getting up for 20-30 minutes before getting back in bed to sleep.
- Make it a ritual – Aside from a consistent bedtime, you may have other rituals that your body can use to signal sleepiness. Washing your face, brushing your teeth, getting into pajamas and reading can all be part of your nightly ritual.
- Limit naps – “Napping has its place,” said Dr. Lee-Iannotti. “A 15- to 30-minute power nap on a particularly exhausting day can be healthy. But as soon as you see the naps impacting your ability to sleep, you should sacrifice that rest for deeper sleeping at night.”
Being tired isn’t just part of getting older
Just because you’ve turned 55 doesn’t mean that your body and mind will just be more tired. Dr. Lee-Iannotti assured aging adults that this isn’t part of aging. “The world revolves around sleep. Prioritize getting adequate, restful sleep and you will feel younger, healthier and happier.” If you have put Dr. Lee-Iannotti’s tips into practice and still struggle to rest, make an appointment with your Banner Health physician to find a solution. To help determine your risk for sleep apnea, fill out our free Sleep Apnea Profiler.