Getting enough restful sleep every night is one of the most important things you can do for your overall physical and mental health — no matter what stage of life you’re in. But new research has shown that it may be even more important in middle adulthood (in your 40s, 50s, and 60s). The problem is that for many of us, as we get older, it becomes harder and harder to get restful sleep.
Experts say that practicing good sleep hygiene can help you get the sleep you need to protect your brain as you age.
Why is this important?
- Some experts say that middle age is one of the hardest times in life to get quality sleep each night. Many factors contribute to this, from life issues (parenting and caretaking) to hormonal changes.
- In general, as people get older, they get less restful sleep — they wake up earlier, or more often during the night.
- One study found that people in their 50s and 60s who get 6 hours or fewer of sleep every night have a 30% higher chance of developing dementia.
- Chronic insomnia can lead to severe consequences like car accidents and depression.
- Getting enough restful sleep is critical for your brain’s problem-solving capabilities.
- Sleep problems are associated with other mental health issues like anxiety disorders.
- People who get less quality sleep usually have worse work performance and higher absenteeism.
- 1 in 2 adults has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
How to practice good sleep hygiene:
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This will train your body to know when it’s time to start winding down.
- Have a solid bedtime routine. Fill your routine with activities that help you relax, like taking a bath or making a warm cup of herbal tea. With time, you will start associating these activities with sleep.
- Avoid screens and electronic devices for half an hour to an hour before going to bed. The light that electronic screens emit has been shown to interfere with the sleep-wake cycle.
- Use your bed only for sleeping and sex. When you do other things, like work, in bed, then it makes it easier for your body to lie awake at night.
- If you can’t fall asleep after 30 minutes, then get out of bed and engage in another activity. Choose a calming activity, like listening to a meditation podcast or reading a history book. After about 15 minutes, return to bed and try to sleep again. Repeat this for as long as necessary. Don’t stay awake in bed, tossing and turning, for too long.
- Turn your bedroom into an ideal sleep environment. Make sure you meet the three key requirements for good sleep: dark, quiet, and cool. Turn off the lights, and consider buying blackout curtains if you need them. Around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for sleep.
- Live a life that’s conducive to good sleep. Get exercise every day, but don’t exercise right before bedtime. Stick to one or two cups of coffee in the morning. Don’t eat large meals before going to bed. And avoid drinking alcohol late at night — alcohol might make you feel sleepier, but it actually interferes with quality sleep.
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gFang, Z., Smith, D. M., Houldin, E., Ray, L., Owen, A. M., & Fogel, S. (2022). The relationship between cognitive ability and BOLD activation across sleep–wake states. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 16(1), 305–315. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-021-00504-w
Poor sleep in middle age linked to late-life Alzheimer’s-related brain changes. (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/poor-sleep-middle-age-linked-late-life-alzheimers-related-brain-changes
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