If you’re yawning through the evening news, or unable to nod off once your head hits the pillow, you may be experiencing sleep-related changes which are common as we age. Despite being biologically normal, sleep pattern changes can be frustrating as you find yourself yawning through the day.
The Sleep Cycle Changes as We Age
Here’s a few things that may be going on with your sleep cycle:
Phase Advance Moves the Sleep Cycle Earlier
If you’re tired earlier in the evening and wide awake in the wee hours of the morning, you may be experiencing a phenomenon called phase advance. This means your internal clock has moved your bedtime and rise-and-shine time back – not unlike daylight savings time.
Trouble Falling Asleep
Another common complaint has to do with sleep latency – or difficulty falling asleep in the evening. This affects sleep efficiency – or the amount of time you are in bed and asleep. Sometimes older adults start spending more time in bed but not sleeping, for example reading or watching television, which can make it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime.
Decreased Quality of Sleep
A natural change which also affects the quality of your sleep is a decrease in slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep is a deep sleep which occurs during stage three of non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This is when brain neurons alternate between resting and firing up at a high rate, and it’s considered important for allowing your brain to recover from the day.
What is Good Sleep Hygiene and How Can It Help?
The first step to better slumber is to practice something called sleep hygiene. Sleep Hygiene consists of the good habits which help clue your mind that it’s time not just for bed, but for sleep. Added stimulus – like scrolling through Facebook on your phone – can send mixed messages. Keep in mind you brain needs cues that it’s time to sleep.
Tips for good sleep hygiene :
- Go to bed at a regular time and follow the same routine each night.
- Avoid caffeine after lunch.
- Get physical activity during the day, but don’t work out later in the evening.
- Try not to eat late, such as after 7 p.m., and avoid large amounts of protein for dinner.
- Turn off electronics and anything that stimulates your brain before bedtime.
- If you find yourself awake, get up do something and return to bed when you feel drowsy.
If you’re practicing good sleep hygiene and still experiencing excessive tiredness – the kind that interferes with your ability to get through the day – it’s time to speak with your primary care provider.
Signs of Poor Sleep that Should be Evaluated by your Provider:
- Excessive daytime napping
- Daytime fatigue interferes with your daily schedule
- Sleep is not refreshing
Together, we can see if there’s another condition, such as problems with snoring or a thyroid imbalance, which need to be evaluated.