Concerned about your sleep habits as you age? The answers you find here may help you rest easier.
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Your ability to sleep well begins to change when you reach 60.
Question 1 Explanation:
Sleep patterns do change a bit over the years, but more between the ages of 20 and 60 than later on, researchers say. By the time people are in midlife, they tend to sleep more lightly than they did when they were younger and for about 30 minutes less per night. Beyond 60, they’re apt to awaken more frequently during the night, often so briefly that they’re not aware they’ve been awake, but they probably won’t spend more (or less) time sleeping than they once did. A University of Pittsburgh study of 1,116 retirees 65 and older found that more than half slept seven and a half hours a night (most experts recommend seven to eight hours). When older people do have trouble sleeping, poor health is often to blame. Older adults are more prone to suffer from medical conditions—and to use medications—that can adversely affect sleep. Bottom line: discuss any major sleep changes with your doctor, no matter what your age.
Age-related brain changes that affect deep sleep can exacerbate memory loss.
Question 2 Explanation:
A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, is the first to show that, for some people, an aging brain can interfere with deep sleep, and that this could be directly related to some memory loss. As we age, our prefrontal cortex—the area behind the forehead that helps with sleep quality—naturally atrophies. The corresponding decline in sleep quality can have a direct impact on some people’s ability to retain memories. While these structural brain changes can’t be reversed and sleep is only one of many factors in memory loss, research teams are experimenting with ways to improve slumber, such as using electrodes to induce mild brain stimulation.
It doesn’t matter how long you sleep every night as long as you feel rested in the morning.
Question 3 Explanation:
Studies of more than 1.3 million people in the United States, Europe and Asia have found that sleeping less than six hours or more than nine hours can raise your risk of premature death. Short sleep increases your risk by 12 percent while long sleep raises it 30 percent. Researchers are still trying to determine exactly why this is, though they have differentiated between long sleep, which is associated with illness, versus shorter sleep, which can be a side effect of health issues, stress or lifestyle choices. This doesn’t mean you should worry about the occasional night of short sleep or that luxurious sleep-in on Saturday morning. But make six to eight hours your habit.
Newer prescription sleeping pills are non-habit-forming, so there’s little risk to using them to cure your insomnia.
Question 4 Explanation:
Sleeping pills are best used to help you get through short-term periods of stress that may be affecting your sleep, not as a permanent fix for insomnia. There are pills that help you fall asleep, stay asleep or both. While many prescription sleeping pills are marketed as non-habit-forming, let’s face it—if a pill helps you sleep, you very well may come to rely on it, even if that dependence is psychological rather than physical. In addition, if you use sleep medication for a long time, you may build up tolerance to the recommended dosage. And all sleeping pills have side effects and risks, especially for people with particular medical conditions, such as liver or kidney disease. The most important thing to do is discuss your sleeping issues with a doctor, who will help you determine the best solution based on your current health and medical history.
Napping is an excellent way to catch up on sleep.
Question 5 Explanation:
For those who do shift work or whose nighttime sleep period is too short, a midday nap can make all the difference. For others, napping has proven to be a pick-me-up to boost energy and alertness. A NASA study of pilots and astronauts found that a nap increased performance by 34 percent and upped alertness to 100 percent. In many cultures, especially those in hot locations, a midday rest is part of the everyday routine for people of all ages. The best naps, experts say, last 20 to 40 minutes lying in a quiet room. If you nap much longer, you’ll fall into too deep a sleep and may experience grogginess and inertia upon awakening. The timing is important; too early in the day, your body may not be ready to sleep, but too late in the day may affect your ability to fall asleep at night. And contrary to what you may think, insomniacs probably shouldn’t nap during the day, because this could further complicate nighttime sleep patterns.
It’s possible to have a health problem that affects your sleep without even knowing it.
Question 6 Explanation:
Something is wrecking your sleep, but you can’t quite describe it. Your legs feel like they are tingling, itching or aching and you simply can’t find a comfortable position to sleep. It could be restless leg syndrome (RLS), one of many sleep-disturbing health conditions that many people don’t even realize can be diagnosed and treated. Other such issues include sleep apnea (you may know you snore, but you may not know that you actually stop breathing for seconds at a time, sometimes as much as 30 times an hour) or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, which causes acid reflux and heartburn, particularly when you lie down). While these conditions are chronic, they can be managed by medication, diet, sleeping position or, in the case of apnea, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
Backlit reading devices, like your iPad, can contribute to difficulties in falling asleep.
Question 7 Explanation:
Your trusty iPad or smartphone—even your laptop—may be confusing your brain at bedtime, turning night into day. According to a study by the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the screen’s light shines directly into your eyes, making your brain think it’s seeing sunlight. The result is a shutoff of melatonin, the hormone that helps usher us into sleep. This can contribute to insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns. Backlit screens emit a great deal of blue light, which is particularly stimulating. The evidence isn’t conclusive, nor will backlit devices affect everyone. If you’re dedicated to your e-reader and prone to insomnia, dim your screen or switch to a nonbacklit device, like the Kindle. Or just remember the classics—a paper book and a gentle bedside lamp.
Your bedroom can make or break a good night’s sleep.
Question 8 Explanation:
Experts say reserve the bedroom for sleeping and sex, so leave your to-do lists and in-boxes outside the door. Use a soothing color palate, keep clutter to a minimum, create a comfortable bed—all simple steps that help foster a sleep-inducing environment. When it’s time to shut off the (soft) light, make the room as dark as possible. Use blackout shades or blinds and remove glowing electronics (except a basic digital clock, though even those have harsh lights that can disrupt sleep). Adjust the temperature; many people prefer a cooler sleeping environment. If night noises bother you, try earplugs or turn on a steady sound, like a white noise machine or fan. If you have trouble falling asleep, remember that lying quietly awake will be restful for your body. Some experts say if you can’t drift off after a half hour, get out of bed and leave the room; if writing out your grocery list will take it off your mind and allow you to sleep, by all means, do it.
There is no such a thing as the right mattress.
Question 9 Explanation:
If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider age—not yours, your mattress’s. If it’s more than 10 years old, it’s time to go shopping. There is no one-size-fits-all mattress, and more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean more comfort. A mattress is designed to help reduce pressure on your body. This helps your blood flow, reducing how often you need to roll over or shift—moves that, however briefly, interrupt sleep. Hard or soft is a personal preference, but if you have back or neck problems, you may find that medium firmness is your best bet. Other medical conditions, such as heartburn or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), could benefit from an adjustable mattress that allows a more upright sleeping position. If you have allergies or asthma, consider a hypoallergenic mattress or mattress cover. Before you buy, lie on a mattress, trying different positions for up to 20 minutes if you can, and let comfort be your guide.
Children need a set bedtime routine, but healthy adults should be able to fall asleep anytime, anywhere.
Question 10 Explanation:
You may not need a lullaby, but a regular routine not only helps you relax, it signals your brain that it’s time to rest. Some people start with a mug of herbal tea, then move on to gentle stretching or breathing exercises. Some take a warm shower or bath before reading or listening to quiet music. And it’s just as important to avoid stimulating activities and behaviors before bed. Don’t drink caffeine or eat too close to bedtime. If watching a movie or playing a game turns your brain on high, eliminate these from your routine. The keys are to repeat the same soothing activities, no matter how small, at every bedtime and to keep your bedtime and wake-up time the same every day. Yes, even on weekends.
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