The A-Z of Sleep World Sleep Day on The Tonic www.thetonic.co.uk

The A-Z of sleep… for the over 50s

As we age, we experience a change in our sleep patterns. It can be frustrating, but a little understanding and a handful of tips can go a long way towards helping…

A is for alcohol

As we age, we often find it harder to get to sleep, and it’s tempting to round the day off with a nightcap to help you slumber. But whilst the relaxing effects are undeniable, as the night wears on you spend more time in deep sleep and not enough in the rejuvenating REM period. It’s not good quality sleep.

B is for bedtime routine

Make sure your sleeping area is restful and distraction-free for a good night’s rest. Also prepare for sleep by getting into a routine your body will recognise – have a warm bath, maybe some meditation or stretches, a warm drink like milk or chamomile tea.

C is for caffeine

Do we really need to talk about this? OK – just for good measure. Coffee is an obvious one but don’t get tripped up by chocolate, tea or Coke either. If it affects you, just ditch it.

D is for dinner

Whilst a comforting carby dinner can help you sleep, if you overload your stomach at bedtime it can lead to indigestion, and issues like acid reflux. Try and leave time between eating and sleeping, and watch out for hard-to-digest foods like red meat, raw/cruciferous veg, and cheese.

E is for eggs

And whilst we’re talking about dinner, eggs is good! Scrambled eggs are eminently digestible, filling and yummy.

F is for feathers

If you’re having trouble sleeping, is it your bedding? Have you ever stopped to wonder if feathers are really the right way to go? Or fluff, or foam? If you’re sleeping badly and waking up stiff, maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s your bedding.

G is for Golden Time

Obviously if you’re a shift worker this doesn’t apply, you’ll have to work out the related equivalent! But the period of sleeping between 10pm and 2am is often referred to as the ‘golden time’ when skin and body rejuvenate. Chunks of sleep in three or four hour blocks offer the optimum benefit apparently.

H is for hormones

As we age we naturally produce less melatonin, the sleep hormone. It’s possible to buy melatonin supplements and we hear good things, but there’s plenty of foods that provide excellent sources of naturally occurring melatonin. The Alaska Sleep Clinic has a handy list HERE

I is for insomnia

If you’re reading this you probably already know how frustrating and draining it can be. But the best way to fight insomnia is not to fight it. If you can’t sleep, give it an hour and if you’re still awake, change the setting. Get up, read a book, have a warm bath, eat a biscuit – just reset your head. Stay away from screens and blue light and then give it another go. If you keep tossing and turning and stressing it’s not going to go away.

J is for joints

Lying there with your hips hurting or back aching isn’t great for the old sleep routine. Every case is different, and it’s likely you’re getting meds for this already, but researching the right mattress, pillows and bolsters can transform the experience. Try sleeping with a pillow between your knees, for example. Lots to try out here.

K is for kissing

Kissing releases lurve hormone oxytocin and reduces stress hormone cortisol. Both of these things will make you more relaxed and happy. So have a good snog with your loved one at bedtime!

L is for light

Look at your lighting – blue light, bright light, screen lights, any light in fact can affect your sleep. Turn the TV off, switch off the lights. Light prevents melatonin working, it’s not helping your sleep.

M is for menopause

Ah, dear old menopause. Bringer of so much joy! And sleeplessness, hot flushes and adrenaline are in amongst all that. Unless you’re embracing HRT here, your best bet is to try and ensure that your sleeping pattern is regular, keep a flannel in an iced bucket nearby to cool yourself down with, and make sure you avoid alcohol, caffeine etc religiously.

N is for naps

So – as we age we are more likely to nap during the day but ultimately this will have an effect on your nighttime sleep. The most common downside is not being tired at bedtime because you’ve slept during the day. Maybe keep an eye on the napping and if it’s affecting your real sleep time, try and cut back on those winks.

O is for osteoporosis

Recent studies have shown that there is a link between sleep deprivation and osteoporosis, connected to our ability to regenerate during sleep. If you’re a serial insomniac it’s worth ensuring your diet includes plenty of healthy fresh foods and calcium to help.

P is for prostate

Are you a man? Are you getting up a lot in the night for a wee? Better get that prostate checked out – and do it sooner rather than later, OK?

Q is for quiet

Another one that’s a no-brainer. Sleeping when it’s quiet will give you a better quality rest. If you’re someone who falls asleep watching the TV or listening to the radio, put it on a timer so it turns itself off later. If you have a snoring partner, consider at least spending some nights in different beds. If all else fails, invest in some decent earplugs!

R is for REM

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the busy bit of your night, when your brain clears out the day’s stuff, you dream, your brain and body are energised. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that this is a good thing, but it’s vital for clearing out the neural nonsense. It first occurs about 70-90 minutes after you fall asleep but you go through a REM cycle several times in the night.

S is for sleepwalking

Or somnambulism, to give it its fancy name. And in this case ageing is a positive thing! Studies show that as you age, sleepwalking becomes less frequent. It does, however, become more dangerous – with risks of a fall or accident rising. So do another S and safeguard against your night time wanderings.

T is for tech

If going to sleep is hard, try turning it all off. That means your phone, iPad, telly, computer… it might feel like you’re relaxing but that crazy light is beaming straight into your brain and signalling it to stay awake. Switch it OFF!

U is for unusual

We’re talking about surroundings here, and how it can be difficult to sleep in a bed that isn’t yours. If you’re traveling, take your own pillow with you, maybe a blanket that smells familiar? You’d be amazed how much stuff like that helps.

V is for Valium

Anyone who has used diazepam to help them nod off will know that it’s effective, but really short term. And these days we know that long term usage – apart from being additive – can have detrimental effects on the brain, including memory loss, dizziness, anxiety or even seizures. Don’t go crazy with this stuff.

W is for ‘wakey wakey’

Training your body to wake up at the same time each day will really help your sleep patterns. Your body likes regular, trust us.

X is for X-rated!

We couldn’t leave this out. It’s nature’s way of filling you full of love and happy hormones and is a great way to nod off relaxed. Have a bit of rumpy-pumpy.

Y is for yawning

According to a fairly recent study, we yawn less as we age, and certainly are less susceptible to contagious yawning. Although nobody seems to know why. So good thing? Maybe?

Z is for zzzz

We’re off now to have a warm bath, slide into PJs and grab a book before heading to the Land of Nod. Night night, sleep tight.

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Sam Harrington-Lowe

As editor at the Tonic, Sam works with an extraordinary array of...

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