As we get older, we look for things we can do to prevent wrinkles, diseases, and cognitive functions. And there are hundreds of things that you can do to support aging in the best possible way.
However, one of the most under-appreciated factors contributing to our mental and physical health while aging is good sleep. Older people often don’t associate their deterioration in health with poor sleep, although scientists have known causal relationships between the two for many decades. It’s time that we realize that there are many physical and mental health problems that are closely linked to low quality sleep and sleep disorders.
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Keeping your sleep quality stable as you age will help you to prevent major health issues like chronic pain, diabetes, depression, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, making sleep quality and stabilization a priority in your life is paramount for healthy aging.
Young or old – we all need the same amount of good quality sleep
Older people often say that they don’t need as much sleep as they did when they were younger. But this is a myth! When we get older, we need as much sleep as we did in younger life, but the problem is that we might be less able to produce the sleep we need.
The reason for this is that the older we get, the more problematic and disturbed our sleep becomes. This is related to various causes, of which the effects of medications, together with chronic diseases, are certainly most relevant.
Why our sleep becomes less efficient as we age
Another reason is that our sleep gets more fragmented because our bladder becomes weaker, and we need to get up more often to visit the bathroom. As a consequence, our sleep becomes less efficient, hence less restful.
It’s simple maths: Sleep efficiency is defined as the percentage you have slept while in bed. If you spend 8 hours in bed and sleep the full 8 hours, your sleeping efficiency is 100%. If you sleep only four of these eight hours, your sleeping efficiency is 50%. Generally, to have a night of good restorative sleep, you need to reach an efficiency of 90% or more.
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However, by the time we reach our 70s, sleep efficiency is often below 70 or 80%. And the lower our sleep efficiency is, the worse our physical health and cognitive function, the less energy we have, the more likely we are to suffer from conditions like depression.
Why our sleep quality is impaired as we age
Another reason why our sleep quality diminishes with aging is that we are less able to produce restorative deep non-REM sleep. In fact, the decline of deep sleep starts already in our twenties. By the time we reach our 70th birthday, we will have lost 80 to 90% of the deep sleep we enjoyed as a young teenager.
In addition to producing less deep sleep, also our circadian rhythm changes with advanced age in a way that most of us become sleepy earlier and earlier. The reason for this is that our body releases the sleep hormone melatonin earlier in the evening, commanding an earlier start time for sleep.
What can you do to improve sleep as you age?
One thing is clear: Taking sleeping pills is not the solution when it comes to improving the quality and efficiency of your sleep. There are many other things you can do to still enjoy great sleep as you get older.
- Go to bed when you are tired in the evening and don’t spend time on the sofa watching TV. You risk dozing off on the couch or in an armchair and then find it difficult to fall asleep later at night in your bed.
- If your problem is that you wake up too early in the morning, try wearing sunglasses in the morning. This helps to prevent the morning light from keeping your biological clock on an early-to-rise schedule.
- Then in the afternoon, try to catch some sunlight without wearing sunglasses. This will help delay the evening release of melatonin, pushing the timing of sleep to a later hour while increasing your sleep pressure.
- Discuss your medications and dietary supplements with your doctor or pharmacist and consider any changes to their use that could affect sleep quality.
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. This includes limiting lighting from televisions, computer monitors, and mobile devices. Light interferes with your body’s natural sleep rhythm.
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- Limit your caffeine intake, especially in the eight hours before going to bed.
- Avoid alcohol near bedtime – alcohol can help you fall asleep, but once it wears off, you are more likely to wake up during the night
- To maintain a proper sleep cycle, limit sleeping during the day to only 20 to 30 minutes. If you notice that you sleep less during the day because of naps in the afternoon, avoid naps altogether.
- If you have ongoing trouble falling asleep, try taking 1 to 2 milligrams of melatonin about two hours before bedtime.
What are other life hacks for improving sleep and aging?
Getting enough healthy sleep is not limited to implementing a good sleep routine. Just as the quality of sleep affects all areas of your life, the way you approach your life affects how well you sleep. Here are six life hacks that will ensure to get restful sleep and help to age in a positive way.
1. Stay active and get flexible
It’s no secret that as you age, your metabolism slows down. Getting at least 20 minutes of activity a day increases your metabolism and bone density lowering the risk of bone injuries as you age.
Keep in mind that, in general, working out regularly is much more important than intensity. In fact, you should cut out intense cardio as it makes you age faster. Instead, lift small weights, do yoga, pilates, or walking or a combination of those every day for 20 minutes.
Great easy ways to stay in shape are doing a few squats and planks several times a day. Also, stop sitting for hours, get up, move around, and do some simple stretches at least once per hour. Try to get up without holding onto things. The more help you need, the more likely you are to age faster.
2. Fix your alignment
If you know how to move, sit, and stand correctly, you can stay active and prevent fractures and disabilities. Correct posture can also help to keep you from back troubles and knee replacements.
One of the most critical things in terms of body mechanics and posture is alignment, meaning how your head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, and ankles are related and aligned with each other. The correct alignment of the body puts less strain on the spine and helps you to adopt a good posture.
To maintain proper alignment, avoid the following positions or movements:
- a slumped, forward-facing posture
- forward bending from the waist
- twisting of the spinal column up to a load point
- twisting the torso and bending forward during activities such as coughing, sneezing, or lifting
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Keep in mind that some exercises can do more harm than good. If you have osteoporosis or have broken bones in your spine, you should avoid activities that require you to bend down from the waist.
3. Take fish oil and vitamins regularly
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. As a study by Ohio State University shows, it can help everything from joints, eyesight, and hair growth to skin smoothness and improved heart and immune function. If fish oil isn’t for you, you can also increase your intake of seeds, nuts, sardines, or salmon.
Also start taking magnesium, B vitamins as well as vitamin D and K to ensure a healthy calcium metabolism. Vitamin K1 is divided into two main groups – K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 is obtained from leaf green and some other vegetables. Vitamin K2 is a group of compounds derived mainly from meat, cheese, and eggs and synthesized by bacteria.
4. Keep your diet colorful
We know that some foods accelerate the aging process. What many people do not know is that some foods can do the opposite. Foods like kale, broccoli, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and plums are all rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can promote healthy aging.
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But most importantly, eat less processed foods and cut out soda and fast food from your diet. Generally, try to eliminate sugar entirely and drastically reduce salt intake. Drink more, much more – but only water (half a gallon of water per day is the minimum). Stop drinking more than one glass of wine or alcohol a day.
5. Spend time with family and friends
Isolation and loneliness can become a serious problem in older age. Studies show that older people who are isolated are likely to be sicker – and die earlier – than those who feel connected.
That’s why it’s crucial that you reduce loneliness in old age. The problem is that often we find our schedules so hectic when we’re younger that we neglect to make time for a social life. But a social life can help you age better in many ways.
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The greatest thing you can achieve by making time for friends and family is to reduce stress levels. Studies have shown that stress damages your skin cells, leading to premature wrinkles. Stress can also lower your immune system, which increases the likelihood of getting sick. As a bonus, finding time for your friends also means that you are more physically and mentally active.
6. Change Your Opinion Of Old
There is no formal definition of what old means. The word can have many different meanings depending on the context. Don’t degrade yourself by talking about your “senior moments” or the things you can no longer do.
Having a positive attitude and a good mental outlook is half the battle. When you tell yourself that you are old and can’t do things, it becomes the truth. Instead, focus on all the things you can do and remember, age is just a number.
Remember, health is cumulative. Incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine will make a big difference as you age. But in today’s busy society, we tend to forget to take care of ourselves and to get enough sleep because we are so busy taking care of everyone and everything else.
Therefore, for healthy aging, it is essential to make yourself and sleep a priority and begin implementing as many of the above suggestions as you can.