To Your Health: How to fall asleep faster and improve sleep as you age

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health

If you struggle to wake up for work in the morning, or if you wake up a number of times during the night, you might not exactly feel ready to take on the day. It happens to all of us from time to time. Unfortunately, as you age, this may become more common.

As you get older, your sleep patterns begin to change. You might have a harder time falling asleep, toss and turn during the night, and wake up more often, which can lead to feeling groggy during the day.

Americans between the ages of 18 and 60 should get at least seven hours of sleep each night, but research shows that about one-third of adults get less than that on average.

Not getting enough sleep will leave you feeling less sharp the next day. It can also make you feel moody or grumpy, make it harder to concentrate, and affect your ability to problem-solve and learn. Not getting enough sleep is also linked to more serious health concerns, such as weight gain, depression, heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and stroke.

Older adults may feel like they don’t get as much sleep as they used to, when in reality, they don’t get as much deep, quality sleep as they once did.

As we age, we get less deep sleep and not only begin to wake up more during the night, but become more aware that we’re waking up. Often, older adults still get roughly the same amount of sleep — around seven hours — but have more interrupted sleep throughout the night, which can make them feel like they’re not well rested.

Many adults turn to sleep medications to attempt to feel less sleep-deprived in the morning. However, it’s best to turn to other measures to help you sleep.

Sleeping pills can be addictive, cause confusion or delirium and ultimately lead to falls and car accidents, so it’s best to steer clear of them altogether. If you have to use them, try to only take them for a very short time. You should get your doctor’s advice even before turning to an over-the-counter sleep aid.

If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, your doctor can help you first rule out any underlying causes of sleeplessness, such as depression, anxiety, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

Here are some other tips on getting better sleep as you age:

  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants before bed. You might even need to trade your late-day coffee habit for a caffeine free alternative.
  • Create a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to train your body.
  • Sleep in a dark, cool room. You’re more prone to wake up if light creeps through shades or if your room is too warm.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before bed. Yes, a drink or two may make you drowsy, but alcohol may make you wake up later in the night.
  • Get exercise. The benefits of moving extend to your sleep health — a brisk walk or a class at the gym will make it easier to fall asleep at night.
  • Remove screens. Avoid watching TV in bed or using your phone for an hour before sleep. Instead, practice relaxation techniques.

If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes of getting into bed, get up and read or listen to music. Get back into bed when you begin to feel tired.

By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]