Find out the secrets to a good night sleep
Find out the secrets to a good night sleep
FOR decades, scientists have been telling us that sleep is essential for our physical and brain health and that people who don’t get enough of it are at higher risk of developing dementia, depression, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Yesterday, the message was reiterated by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), an independent collaborative of scientists, doctors and academics, which works with Age UK, as it urged the over-50s to take action to safeguard their slumbers.
The paradox, though, is that as we age we don’t need as much sleep.
“Needing less sleep as we get older is a characteristic of human development, yet its importance increases because the health consequences of not having properly slept are difficult to override as we age,” says Professor Kevin Morgan, who heads up the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University.
“Ageing is also associated with decreasing satisfaction with sleep. About two per cent of young adults report insomnia symptoms, whereas around a third of those over 60 suffer with sleep disruption in varying degrees.”
So, what to do if you dream of a good night’s sleep only for it to elude you? From cutting down on caffeine to sleeping in socks, here we round up the latest expert advice for the over-50s.
“If you understand sleep, your chances of improving your own sleep quality are greatly improved. Sleep literacy in general is very low. Most people don’t know much about their sleep, even those who know about exercise, diet and health.
“Buy a sensible book by a sleep doctor or academic such as Prof Colin Espie to gain an understanding of sleep, how it works and why it is so important to each of us.”
PRACTISE GOOD ‘SLEEP HYGIENE’
“Sleep hygiene simply means living your life in a way that promotes and safeguards your sleep,” adds Prof Morgan.
“Most importantly, go to bed at the same time every evening and get up at the same time each morning. Regularity doesn’t make you interesting but it does look after your sleep patterns. It’s important to stick with the same bedtime and waking times even if your sleep is disrupted. That way you’ll eventually go to bed sleepier and sleepier.”
Also restrict fluids and food three hours before going to bed.
THE 15-MINUTE RULE
Experts agree that spending too much time awake in bed encourages sleeplessness.
“If you’re unable to get to sleep in the first place, or you wake in the night and can’t drop off again, don’t lie there for hours waiting for it to happen,” says Prof Morgan.
“Robust studies have shown that staying in bed teaches you to stay awake in bed when what you want is for your bed to be associated with sleepiness.” Avoid looking at a clock but if you estimate you’ve been awake for 15 minutes, the message is very clear: get up.
He adds: “Go somewhere quiet and do something passive such as reading or knitting but don’t be tempted to look at your phone or computer. When you start to feel sleepy go back to bed.”
BAN YOUR PET FROM THE BEDROOM
Prof James Goodwin, chief scientist at Age UK, said: “Letting your dog or cat sleep on your bed at night might be nice for them but if they disturb you it would be much better to shut them out.”
TURN OFF THE TELLY AND TABLET
“Many of us spend a lot of the day looking at screens on our phones, tablets and PCs, and then at the television in the evening,” says Prof Goodwin.
“But they stimulate our brains, so to help us to sleep well it is better not to do any of these things once we get into bed.”
DITCH YOUR AFTERNOON SNOOZE
Prof Morgan says: “Being sleepy is a precious resource, so don’t waste it on an afternoon nap on the sofa, save it until bedtime. If you nap, you’ll just diffuse that pressure to sleep when it comes to bedtime.”
DON’T DRINK CAFFEINE BEYOND LUNCHTIME
As we get older, our bodies become more sensitive to caffeine. So the same volume of coffee drunk in your 20s and 30s without impairing your sleep could play havoc with it in your 50s and 60s.
Prof Goodwin says: “As we age, drinking even small amounts of coffee in the afternoon can interfere with both falling and staying asleep, as well as decreasing our ability to maintain our usual sleep pattern.”
Also, don’t have a boozy nightcap before bed in the belief that it will help you sleep – it will act as a stimulant and either keep you awake or cause disrupted sleep.
TAKE DAILY EXERCISE
World Health Organisation guidelines state that we should aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week to maintain cardiovascular health, which equates to a 30-minute walk, five days a week.
A recent trial with older people at Loughborough University concluded that the same level of daily physical activity also improves sleep quality in those suffering with poor sleep.
GRAB YOUR DRESSING GOWN
If you suffer with cold feet, wearing socks to bed can help you to drop off more quickly.
Similarly, if you wake in the night to go to the bathroom at this time of year, Prof Morgan advocates keeping warm: “Keep your dressing gown by the bed and put it on before you go to the bathroom because the shock of going from a cosy, 30C bed to the abrupt cold can make it difficult to get back to sleep again.”
SWITCH OFF YOUR MIND
According to Prof Morgan, this issue is the real biggie for sleep clinicians.
“Most people who suffer from insomnia or disrupted sleep complain that they simply cannot control their stream of consciousness,” he says.
“In the absence of a therapist you need a couple of tricks to help switch off your mind. “The first is to create a worry or thinking buffer. It is a personal discipline that really works. All you need to do is allocate time during the day – early evening around 6pm is good – where you allow yourself to engage in your worries and frustrations.
“Write them down, brainstorm solutions, assess whether they are really worth worrying about. After 30 minutes maximum, draw a line under them and walk away. If you wake during the night, tell yourself that you will deal with worries at 6pm tomorrow, but not now.
“The second trick is called articulatory suppression, which is a simple method to block your thinking. The traditional way is to utter a mantra but the problem is that the human brain is very good at repeating a mantra rhythmically.
“What’s really difficult, however, is to repeat something at irregular intervals. Take a non-emotive word such as ‘the’ and try to repeat it in your head at irregular intervals. Believe me, your brain won’t be able to think about anything else.”