I want deep restful sleep. I’m stressed, I work too much and I’m getting older. How can I go to sleep?
The best way to go to sleep can change over time because of the changes in our life situations and how we change as we age. Many of the best ways to get to sleep can be achieved through simple adjustments to our habits and sleep environment or “sleep Hygiene”, but how can the cause of insomnia change and what is the best way to go to sleep now? Let’s start with the most common reasons you can’t sleep.
Sleep Habits – The Best Way To Go To Sleep
Many sleep problems stem from poor sleep habits. What are sleep habits? Sleep habits, or sleep hygiene, are the behaviors and routines we practice every day that can affect our sleep.
The bedtime routine and sleeping environment can have more impact on how we sleep than you might think. Sometimes the best way to go to sleep only involves paying attention to things we take for granted and making a few tweaks to what we’re doing. Start with these:
- Keep a regular sleep and wake schedule – Sleeping and waking at the same time every day, including weekends, helps to keep your internal clock on track. If a movie is on
late try recording and watching later. If you do stay up late, don’t sleep in more than an hour longer than usual. It will make it easier the rest of the week.
- Wind down for an hour before bed. Avoid cell phones, computer screens and video games. Dim the lights. Find a relaxing activity that you enjoy. It might be reading a book, listening to music, taking a warm bath, or a cup of herbal tea for example.
- Clear your mind – Worries and to do’s – Stress is one of the biggest reasons we don’t sleep. Calm your thoughts. Write
down any worries or concerns on your mind and a possible solution. You’ll be much more able to pick up on them
after a good nights sleep. I you feel anxious, get up and go to another part of the house. The change of environment, known as stimulus control, will help most of the time to quiet your thoughts to help you fall asleep and go back to bed.
- Try to eat at least 2-3 hours before bed.
Eating a large meal close to bed time- eating too close to bed can be disruptive to sleep due to the stomach acids becoming active. When you lie down these can move up causing heartburn or reflux, especially if it was a large meal or you already have a problem with reflux related conditions such as GERD or Barrets esophagus. But don’t go to bed hungry either. If you need to eat later try things like cereal with milk or cheese and crackers. These types of snacks a rich in tryptophan and calcium which promote sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine
– Having a late day coffee, cola or even chocolate or a cigarette
before bed can make it harder to get to sleep. These stimulants take time to wear off and shouldn’t be used within several hours of bed time.
- Don’t use alcohol before bed – although alcohol may make you fall asleep faster it causes most people to awake after a few hours with more disrupted sleep the latter half of the night.
- Night time sounds – Some people are easily disturbed by a room that is too quiet. Having a fan on or other “white noise” device helps drown out any disruptive sounds and can be a soothing background if you can’t sleep in a quiet place.
- Your partner snores – Snoring can be as loud as 90 decibels. Turn it down by asking your partner to sleep on his or her side rather than on their back. You can Use ear plugs or sleep in another room.
- Light at night – There are many devices around the house that create light. From alarm clock digital displays to cable boxes. A small amount of light is enough to keep you awake. Outside sources not only include daylight, for day sleepers, but even street lights at night or moonlight can make it hard to get to sleep. Cover or eliminate as many light sources as possible and turn the alarm clock toward the wall. Use blackout curtains and shades to eliminate outside sources of light. An eye mask can help complete the darkness.
- Allergies – Trying to get to sleep or even breathe with an allergy can be challenging. Typically, you spend a third of your time in the bedroom and many people are affected by allergies to dust mites. This makes it even more important to keep the bedroom dusted regularly. You can use bed sheets and pillow cases that block dust mites. You can also crack a door or window to increase airflow to help reduce the mites.
- Your dog is a bed hog – Many people sleep with pets in their room. We feel comforted and secure by having them nearby, but they can be disruptive to sleep at night. Make them a bed nearby. I put mine in the closet. Make sure they go out to potty before bed and have been fed and watered so they don’t wake you at night for these needs.
- The baby keeps you up – Take turns or shifts with your partner taking care of the baby. One takes the first half of the night then switch. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Lets the chores wait and do them while the baby is awake.
How Sleep Changes With Aging
With age comes change. As a young man I could sleep anytime, anywhere for 10 hours straight, uninterrupted without hesitation. Now that I am much older, and having gone through many phases in my life and tried many ways to go to sleep, I find going to sleep a lot harder than it used to be. So what is the best way to go to sleep now? The same things that worked then don’t work the same now.
As we age many of us begin to have a harder time going to sleep and have more trouble staying asleep than we did when we were younger. Despite a common misconception, sleep needs do not decline with age, but stay consistent throughout our adult life.
Because our sleep patterns change with age, we don’t feel we have had a restful or restorative sleep, even though the amount of time spent sleeping may be the same. This is because as the sleep cycle is repeated during the night older people spend less time in the more restorative deeper sleep stages and more time in lighter stages of sleep.
Older adults report more sleep fragmentation (waking during the night) and taking longer to fall asleep at night as well as being increasingly less satisfied with sleep and being more tired during the day. The tendency for sleep disorders to occur increase with age also, but much of the sleep disturbance can be linked to physical and psychiatric problems and medications used for treating them.
Other notable changes to our sleeping patterns, sometimes referred to as “sleep architecture”, are shifts in our circadian rhythms that control the timing of our body processes including sleep. Many older people may feel sleepy earlier in the evening and tend to wake earlier in the morning than when they were younger. They may still get the same amount of sleep as before but will wake up extremely early because they went to sleep at an earlier time.
Known as advanced sleep phase syndrome, the cause for the changes in sleep and circadian rhythms as we grow older is not clear. It may be attributed to light exposure and treatment options include bright light therapy.
If you’re older it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking sleep medicines because older adults react differently to sleep medicines than younger people.
Anti-depressants can be helpful if depression is causing sleep problems without the side effects of most sleep medicines. A mild antihistamine may help but is usually not recommended for most older adults.
Generally the same ways to go to sleep above apply to older people the same as young people.
How To change Sleeping Habits
So you realize you don’t have the best sleep habits and need to improve the quality of your sleep by changing them. One of the hardest sleeping habits to change can be your sleep schedule.
A job change can mean having a different time for waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. Some people have jobs or perhaps school routines that have shifting schedules. Maybe daylight savings time kicks in. This can make it hard for your body clock to get synchronized and have a regular sleep schedule. As said earlier, it’s best to wake and sleep at the same time every day, but sometimes that isn’t possible. If you need to make changes try these ways to go to sleep.
Take little steps
It can be hard to make sudden swings to you sleep schedule. If you know ahead of time that your going to be changing the time you wake up and the time you go to sleep, then begin making changes several weeks ahead in 15 minute steps forward or backward to adjust to the new time. If you have been waking at 7AM and need to get up at 6 AM spread it across 4 mornings moved up 15 minutes each. Then go to sleep 15 minutes earlier at night. This can make a big change much easier.
Light is your friend
Circadian rhythms are the bodies internal clocks that tell you when it’s time to wake up and go to sleep. These rhythms depend on light, the day-night cycle, to help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.
When you wake up turn on the lights or open the curtains to the daylight to help get the cycle going and at night dim the lights leading up to bedtime to let your mind and body know it’s time to go to sleep.
If you work nights and sleep during the daytime you can get blackout curtains to block out as much light as possible to make the room dark. When it’s time to wake up turn lights on gradually or use a dimmer to act like the sun rising in the morning.
Melatonin can be used before bedtime to help the body adjust to a new sleep schedule.
Try Yoga for better sleeping
So, you’ve done all the usual things to find the best way to go to sleep but you’re still trying to do more. A natural way to help you go to sleep is yoga. Yes, it can help with improving strength, flexibility and stress levels, (we can all use that too) but it can help you sleep better as well.
People with insomnia, including older people who have insomnia, report better sleep quality, sleep longer, are able to fall asleep faster, and feel better the next day when performing yoga daily.
The right kind of yoga is important because many forms of yoga are energizing and you don’t need stimulated before bed. Three of the best yoga poses recommended for sleep are Legs up the wall, Corpse pose, and Lying butterfly.
Proper breathing is important. Soothe yourself by slow and steady breathing through these poses except for corpse pose where normal breathing should be done. You should perform these for 3 to 5 minutes just before bed.
Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani )
To begin find an empty wall space. For comfort, place a mat or folded blanket to lie on next to the wall. Sit down with your left or right against the wall. Next, lie back and move your legs up the wall and relax your arms by your side.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Start by lying on your back with your arms by your side and palms facing up. keep your legs straight and focus on inhales and exhales while breathing slowly.
Lie down on your back. Put the bottoms of your feet against each other and let your knees fall to the sides. Place a pillow under your knees if this feels too straining.
Does Meditation Help Sleep?
Yes, meditation can help you go to sleep. Quieting a hyperactive mind using the deep relaxation of meditation has shown to help with insomnia by improving sleep quality, duration of sleep, and the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is safe and may reduce the need for sleep medication and relieve symptoms of insomnia by lowering arousal in the brain and it can be practiced along with other techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Using meditation to help improve sleep can also have other benefits by helping reduce pain, blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. Many books and online resources can be found to learn more in-depth methods. Practiced for 10 minutes before bed each night can show improvement even for people with minimal experience.
Getting started is easy. Sit or lie in a comfortable space and close your eyes breathing slow and deep. Keep your mind on your breathe as you inhale and exhale. When you mind slips off track refocus on your breathing. Try starting for 5 minutes at a time and go for a longer period as you get the hang of it.
Know What Sleep Is About
If you know what sleep is about and the reasons why you can’t sleep at night it can be much easier to find solutions. From better sleep habits to techniques such as yoga or mindfulness meditation, I have tried a lot of things to make the experience of sleeping better and more fulfilling. I haven’t tried the yoga yet myself though. As I have aged over the years and my work, family, and health have changed in different ways, as all of us go through, I have had to try new ways to go to sleep as many of you undoubtedly will as well. And, yes, I do sometimes still need to use a sleeping pill.
I am always reaching for the best way to go to sleep. I hope my posts are a help to you. If you have had a problem sleeping and are still searching for answers or perhaps you have a tip that worked for you or a comment on what I have posted, I would like to hear your story. Please leave a comment below.