How the older generation sleep

Claire Rayner, remembered as the UK’s favourite agony aunt, was a self-confessed cat napper in her later years. “I can nod off at the drop of a hat”, she would say, admitting to catching “delicious snoozes” on train journeys and being unable to resist the arms of Morpheus when returning to the welcome of her comfy sofa in the evenings.

Sleeping patterns

Her unscheduled snoozes are typical of the change in sleeping patterns experienced by many of the older generation. The way older folk tend to sleep differs from the sleep that a typical young person enjoys in several ways:

As well as more daytime napping…

  • Older adults frequently wake up briefly several times during the night.
  • They will typically experience much less deep, dreamless, REM-free sleep.
  • The elderly person’s body temperature falls less during sleep with advancing age.
  • Most pensioners prefer going to bed earlier – and that means usually waking up earlier too.

Better sleep for the over 50s

There are many ways the over 50s can help themselves to get a better night’s sleep – most of them founded in common sense advice. At that time of life, it’s largely a matter of changing your everyday routine to anticipate the way that sleeping patterns will change – and resisting at least some of those afternoon temptations to indulge in cat naps.

Exercise: Half an hour several days a week is perfect. A few brisk walks will be enough – but during the day, not in the evening when you’re approaching bedtime.

Limit those cat-naps: Spending too long snoozing in the afternoon interferes with the sleep you want to get at night. If you really do have to nap during the day, it’s best to limit yourself to half an hour.

Get some sun: Studies show that getting a daily ration of natural daylight in the fresh air is a sure-fire recipe for better sleep at night.

Ensure you have the best environment for sleeping: Your bed should be in a completely darkened room with a fairly low temperature and provide you with a supportive but comfortable mattress.

Check any medications: Some formulations have side effects like daytime drowsiness and others may be helping to keep you awake at night. Your doctor will have all the information you need.

Avoid worrying about getting to sleep: It’s a vicious cycle you need to avoid. The more you can relax about your prospects for getting a good night’s sleep, the easier it’ll become.

Decline all caffeine drinks as bedtime approaches: Coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks make falling asleep and staying asleep much more difficult. One of the more traditional nightcaps, made with warm milk, is a much safer bet.

Limit the demon drink: Drinking any liquid shortly before bed can cause sleep interruption during the night, but alcohol has a seductive way of initially helping you to relax and fall asleep, but then keeping you awake later on as the night progresses.

Don’t go to bed on an empty or full stomach: Feeling either stuffed or starved when you’re ready to retire will likely mean discomfort during the night that makes it difficult to sleep.

Stick with a routine: Keeping regular hours and going to bed each night at the same time, and getting up in the morning following the same daily timetable, will both help to keep your sleep pattern untangled and your biological clock contented.

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