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Tips to help you get the sleep you need

Fifty per cent of all people over the age of 65 have trouble sleeping — are you one of them?

In my twenties I remember buying a gag gift for an uncle who was having trouble sleeping.

The label on the box read “Sleep Assistance Programme”; when we opened it the only thing inside was a cassette tape.

Mystified but undiscouraged we unearthed a dusty player from the back of the hall closet and gleefully inserted the tape. At first, all we heard where the wheels of the player clattering about and giggled at the thought that what we had paid for was an hour of complete silence. Just when we were about to press stop however a deep ominous voice slowly uttered “one sheep” … followed by a few seconds of silence and then, (you guessed it), “two sheep” …

I don't think my uncle ever did attempt to use this monologue as a sleep aid, but I have it on good authority that he hauled it out as cocktail hour entertainment more than once.

Needless to say, getting a good night's rest is no laughing matter and now that I am on the shiny side of 50 I too have had my share of sleepless nights. This has prompted me to keep an eye out for studies on the subject and particularly for non-pharmaceutical remedies.

As you might suspect, the amount of time that you sleep does decrease with age — one study of men aged 16 to 83 concluded that sleep time decreased an average of 27 minutes per decade. But did you know that the quality of your sleep is more important than the number of hours slept?

There are four stages of sleep:

1, Drifting off: those heavy-headed moments between sleep and wakefulness.

2, Light sleep: you are asleep and your mind is at work consolidating memories but you are still on alert so more likely to waken easily.

3, Deep sleep: a dormant state in which your heart rate and breathing decrease as does brain activity while your body rests and recuperates.

4, REM sleep: known as rapid eye movement sleep, this is the phase when dreaming occurs and the amount of time spent in REM sleep decreases significantly with age.

But just because older people tend to sleep less, does not mean that you should settle for less than the best night's rest possible. The following is a list of things that you can do to improve the odds of a good night's rest:

• Block all sources of light from entering your room at night (including the moon or a street light)

• Make sure the room is cool enough

• Ban all televisions and electronic devices from your bedroom

• Enable the night-time settings on any devices that you do bring into the bedroom to minimise the amount of blue light that you are exposed to from the viewing screen

• Invest in a mattress that is actually comfortable

• Establish a “sleep routine” by turning in at the same time every night and rising at the same time each morning

• Limit naps to one 30-minute siesta between 10am and 2pm

• Exercise regularly and spend at least a little time outside each day

• Avoid overeating or drinking too much after 4pm

• If you do wake during the night don't lie there fretting. If you can't get back to sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do “something boring” (such as reading a book or watching television with the sound turned down) for about 30 minutes and then get back in bed and try again

If none of these ideas work, talk to your doctor to uncover the root cause of your sleeplessness and work out a plan to manage this. As with all chronic conditions, sleeplessness can have lasting effects on your overall health so don't dismiss it as simply being a normal part of the ageing process.

Robin Trimingham is an author and thought leader in the field of retirement who specialises in helping corporate groups and individuals understand and prepare for a new life beyond work. Contact her at www.olderhoodgroup.com, 538-8937 or robin@olderhood.com

Sleep patterns: the amount of time you sleep decreases with age (File photograph)

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Published May 07, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 06, 2019 at 9:04 pm)

Tips to help you get the sleep you need

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