WHY DOES SLEEP GO DOWNHILL WITH AGE (AND HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE IT)?
It’s a well-researched fact: our sleep patterns change as we age. These changes are as normal as the physical changes we see our bodies go through over time.
As we get older, our sleep patterns shift to a cycle that has longer periods of light sleep while in earlier stages of life, periods of light sleep were shorter or occurred less frequently among the deep sleep.
Our sleep patterns change but our body still needs the same amount of rest it always has. And that’s where issues of chronic sub-optimal sleep come in. Many older adults wake up during these periods of light sleep and struggle to fall back asleep.
Research shows that there’s a sharp rise in these awakenings beginning between the ages of 35-45. The average 35-year-old wakes up twice per night and by the age of 45, they’re waking up four times per night. The trend continues, with average awakenings increasing to eight by the early 70s.
On top of these changing sleep patterns, studies show that many adults find it harder to fall asleep as they get older. If you’re struggling to fall asleep then struggling to stay asleep, there’s no way you’ll be feeling rested in the morning and it’ll only get worse throughout the day.
Nothing can be done about these physiological changes in sleep patterns. But there are many ways that you can optimise your sleep – and, perhaps surprisingly, it starts with optimising your day.
With office jobs now the norm, we’re in an epidemic of sedentary lifestyles. But activity during the day is crucial for a good night’s sleep. According to Medical Daily, “A 2011 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tracked blood pressure levels and sleep patterns in participants between the ages of 40 and 60. Each participant exercised moderately by walking on a treadmill at 7am, 1pm, and 7pm for 30 minutes three times a week.
The researchers found that all of the participants who exercised at 7am experienced an overall 10% reduction in blood pressure and a 25% drop in blood pressure at night.” Additionally, the group that did morning workouts slept longer and experienced deeper sleep cycles than those that exercised later. The early exercisers actually spent up to 75% more time in deep sleep than the rest.
It’s also important to get some sun during the day. First, sunlight reduces stress and improves your mood – and peace of mind is important for quality sleep. Second, direct sunlight in the morning helps keep your circadian rhythm on track; this rhythm is what tells your body when it’s time to wake and time to sleep.
There are also a number of ways to transform your environment into an optimal sleeping space. If you have a clock, make sure it’s not in view of where you’ll be laying; watching the clock can be stressful when you’re worrying about falling asleep. It’s also important to sleep in complete darkness, so keep the blinds drawn and be sure there are no glowing screens – even artificial light can mess with your circadian rhythm.
Also, keep in mind that it’s fairly common for the circadian rhythm to shift with age. This means that the time that your body really wants to sleep can change over time. For example, at the age of 30, your optimal window for sleep might be 11pm-7am. But years later, your body may benefit from an altered sleeping window – 9pm-6am, for example. This rhythmic change is actually considered a disorder and is known as advanced sleep phase syndrome. Researchers still have a lot of unanswered question about the syndrome, but if you think you might be suffering from it, some specialists claim that they’ve successfully treated patients through bright light therapy.
Finally, avoid using a loud alarm to wake up. It’s very stressful on the body to be awoken suddenly. And if you are regularly getting enough sleep, a gentle sound should be enough to stir you.
If you’d like to know more about optimising sleep, download our free e-book. It’s called Elements of Vitality and it’s packed with helpful info on healthy sleeping, eating and exercising. Secure download link below: