Sleep is an aspect of health affected by schedules, emotions, physical health, and environmental conditions, and it’s not uncommon to experience trouble sleeping every now and then. In fact, only 6% of UK residents achieve the recommended 8 hours of sleep every night.

Common causes of sleep problems in older adults

  • Poor sleep habits and sleep environment – Having an irregular sleep routine, drinking alcohol before bedtime and falling asleep with the television on can contribute to a poor night’s sleep
  • Health conditions – Things like Alzheimer’s disease, Arthritis or other conditions causing you pain, needing to urinate more frequently can affect your sleep.
  • Lack of exercise – If you have a generally inactive lifestyle, you may not feel sleepy when it comes to bedtime. Regular exercise can promote good sleep.
  • Lack of social engagement – As with a lack of exercise, a lack of social activity and engagement can have a poor effect on sleep. If you are able, look for opportunities to meet people and interact – maybe via a day centre, or local volunteering group.

If you’re experiencing recurring sleep problems, there are steps you can take to improve sleep quality before turning to sleeping pills. Improve your sleep quality naturally with the following steps.

Create the best environment

It is important to create an environment conducive to good sleep. This can include everything from having the best mattress for your needs, to ensuring a dark and peaceful atmosphere when retiring to bed. Things to consider include:

  • The right temperature – A bedroom that is too warm can lead to restless sleep. The National Sleep Foundation suggest the ideal bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.
  • Scent – Aromatherapy oils can help create a restful atmosphere. Lavender is the most popular essential oil for rest and relaxation
  • Lighting – Try and ensure your bedroom is dark. Perhaps look into using black out blinds to block out light.
  • Minimising blue-light – Blue light has a negative affect on sleep quality as it prohibits the production of melatonin.

Physically Work It Out

If you still experience sleeping problems after fixing your sleep environment, start working on yourself to see a positive change. One of the simplest, healthiest things you can do to promote better sleep is exercise. Moving your body will tire you and help you fall asleep at night.

You can see a change in your sleep quality the same day you perform cardio exercises for at least 30 minutes. As long as you stick with a routine, you’ll be able to monitor your progress by paying attention to how you feel the next morning. Did you push hard enough the day before, or is it time to take your exercise to the next level? Not sure what exercise to undertake? Get started with our article Fitness tips for older people.

Stick with it and start making changes to other parts of life, including your diet, to enhance your workouts and sleep. You’ll need the energy and nutrients from good foods, and healthy eating can also lead to healthier sleep.

Change Your Diet

The foods you consume have just as much of an effect on your sleep as physical activity does, so improve your overall health by moving more, boosting your sleep quality and eating better. Many whole foods are natural energizers or sleep-aids, and eating each at certain times of the day will help you sleep better. Simply cutting out the processed sugars and high-fats found in packaged junk food is enough to see a change in your sleeping. Diets full of saturated fats and sugars prevent deep sleep, which is when the restoration in your body takes place.

Without this deep sleep, you’ll wake up feeling tired. During deep sleep, your body works to repair tissue and build up your immune system. Start eating foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, to promote healthier sleep, and make sure you’re getting to bed at a decent hour. Seniors, in particular, are at higher risk for disrupted sleep due to aging itself or health problems developed with age. If you’re having a hard time sleeping due to a health condition, speak to a doctor. A doctor can provide you with further information on how you can treat sleep problems and disorders while keeping your dietary needs and restrictions in mind.

Develop a Routine

At the end of each day, have a routine to help yourself get into bed and asleep faster. Aim for a better bedtime and form a routine that involves unwinding before getting into bed, avoiding the anxiety-inducing problem of staring at the ceiling as you try to drift off to sleep.

After dinner, do something that will help your body and mind relax. Try a long bath or reading under a warm yellow light rather than a bright fluorescent light. If nothing seems to help, try using different technology and apps to achieve relaxation. While the light from screens is known to disrupt sleep, careful use of smartphones or laptops and an app can actually strengthen the quality of your sleep. Search for apps like Headspace, Relax Melodies, Sleep Time, and Sleep Genius, as all of these apps offer tools to help calm your thoughts and guide you into a nice sleep and deep sleep with sound.

Let the sounds relax your body, and focus on the sounds to quiet your mind. No matter your age, sleep and sleep quality are vital to maintaining and improving health. Follow the steps above for better sleep, or modify them as needed to meet your specific goals and limitations.