As we age, our sleep cycles change naturally in certain ways. We have more trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, and we tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, but we continue to need just as much sleep as when we were younger. Poor sleep is not inevitable or normal. We do need to watch our “sleep hygiene,” however, including:

  • Stick to a schedule by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends and holidays. Going to bed before midnight and waking up with early morning light is ideal to preserve natural sleep cycles.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch and go easy on alcohol, since both disrupt normal sleep cycles.
  • Beware of side effects of medications: for example, medications for headaches and colds can contain stimulants, and anti-anxiety meds can disrupt restorative slow-wave sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark. Banish electronics, which contain blue wavelengths that suppress melatonin, the hormone needed for sleep.
  • Give yourself at least thirty minutes to “wind down” and relax before going to bed — perhaps with the help of a mindful body scan or calming breathing practice.
Susan Sands in The Inside Story