Lately I have been getting seven to eight hours of sleep. It makes such a difference to the whole day and my outlook when I get enough rest. But it hasn’t always been like this.

As older adults our sleep patterns often change. We may get sleepy earlier, have less deep sleep, have a hard time going to sleep, or wake up earlier. Older people tend to wake up more often during the night. Of course, it’s different for everyone.

Insomnia is a common problem for Boomers. We go to sleep just fine and then wake up way too early, unable to relax back into sleep. Insomnia can be caused by eating rich and heavy snacks just before bed, having an uncomfortable sleeping environment, or being glued to a digital device before we turn the lights off.

Other problems such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea also rob us of our precious rest hours.

Sleep apnea happens when the throat relaxes and the tongue falls back to block the airway or when the brain signals that control breathing are scrambled. While it can happen a few times to several hundred a night, the person with the condition often has no idea they have it. It’s usually a bed partner who notices loud snoring and sudden gasping for air.

In a world where lack of sleep is almost worn as an achievement metal, the effects of insufficient sleep are often overlooked. It can lead to depression and anxiety just as these can in turn lead to poor sleep quality and quantity – a catch-22. It can also lead to serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

I find it interesting that lack of sleep can affect our eating patterns. According to Dianne Augelli, M.D., a sleep expert at New York Presbyterian Hospital, our levels of ghrelin, a hormone responsible for letting our brain know we’re hungry, goes up when we’ve had insufficient sleep. What’s worse is that levels of ghrelin’s complementary hormone, leptin—which signals to the brain that you’re full—drops without solid rest. So not only are you having signals sent to your brain to keep on eating, but there are also no signals going to your brain that you’re full. Plus the foods we crave after a sleep deprived night are the unhealthiest – salty, sweet, or fatty foods.

You’ve probably noticed that a night of little sleep affects your memory, cognition, and learning. But the good news is, this goes back to normal with a normal night. When we sleep our blood pressure and heart rate drop so our bodies can repair themselves. So what can we do to support ourselves to get a better and longer slumber?

Here it is again – the word you don’t want to hear – exercise. It seems the best thing we can do for ourselves is to exercise. Even 30 minutes three or four times a week is enough to sleep longer than couch potatoes. However, it’s best not to exercise too close to bedtime since exercise is stimulating.

Next we need to have a comfortable bed and peaceful sleeping space. We aren’t teenagers anymore, able to sleep on anything, anywhere. You don’t want to be tossing and turning because of a lumpy mattress or pillows that aren’t right for you.

Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all contribute to a lousy night’s sleep. Caffeine and nicotine, both stimulants, stay in your body for hours so try to have your last cup in the afternoon and your last puff hours before you go to sleep, or better yet, quit smoking. Alcohol can make us sleepy but it interferes with the very important REM sleep.

Leave your devices out of the bedroom and don’t watch TV in bed. Light tells your body to wake up and be alert. If you absolutely must use a device before sleep, turn the screen light down as far as possible. Try to keep the bedroom for sleep and love-making only.

If you are awakened by outside noises, like barking dogs, Bali’s famous roosters, or vehicle noises, try a pair of earplugs. They don’t keep all sound out but they deaden the sound enough to turn it into background noise. I find if I can’t go back to sleep, even when there is no outside noise, the earplugs help me focus on my breathing and that puts me back in slumber. A comfortable sleep mask helps if there is too much light.

Naps are fine if you aren’t having sleep problems but they can raise havoc if you are. Go to bed when you are tired at the end of the day and skip the naps until your sleep cycle normalizes.

When I have too much going on in my head to go to sleep and stay asleep, I use lavender oil in an aromatherapy diffuser set for two to four hours. This not only helps me visit dreamland sooner but it keeps me there throughout the night.

Since we are all different, it’s important to recognize how much sleep we each need and what works for us to get a good night’s sleep and build that into a routine.

If you need more help with your sleep there are some good You Tube videos by Dr. Mathew Walker, a sleep expert at UC Berkeley.

Mimpi manis!

By Susan Tereba
The Boomer Corner is a column dedicated to people over 60 living in Bali. Its mandate is to cover topics, practicalities, activities, issues, concerns and events related to senior life in Bali. We welcome suggestions from readers.
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