Healthy sleep habits in retirement

Sleep habits change as we age, and we seem to need less and less sleep as we grow older. If you have noticed a change in sleep habits as you or somebody in your life enters older age and retirement, there are multiple causes for this (and solutions if it’s causing issues). As we age, our body produces lower levels of growth hormones, so we experience a decrease in deep sleep and a decrease in a need for it. We feel less of a need to sleep long hours and are satisfied with a couple of hours of light sleep.

Another contribution to needing less sleep is a lack of melatonin production, which is directly related to less time in deep sleep. Less melatonin means a lighter sleep and generally results in waking up more frequently throughout the night. However, while needing less sleep is more common as we age, a more disturbed or restless sleep is not something you have to settle for. While our bodies may need less sleep, you may not react to it the same as others and find yourself waking up tired and unable to fall asleep at night.

So, if you’re finding that your sleep patterns are changing, but they’re affecting you negatively, here are a couple of tips and tricks to help you sleep better at night.

Avoid the “nanna nap”

Changing patterns in sleep – described as ‘sleep architecture’ by specialists – are based on the different sleep stages we go through. These stages, include dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). The sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night and although total sleep time tends to remain constant, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep.

This can mean that we feel the need to catch up on some sleep during the day. However, napping during the day disrupts your sleep at night and will have an adverse effect on your sleeping habits. If you feel the need to nap, try stay busy and push through until it’s bedtime, and perhaps opt for an earlier bedtime to compensate.

Stick to a regular bedtime

Other factors affecting sleep are the circadian rhythms that coordinate the timing of our bodily functions, including sleep. If you find that you tend to go to bed earlier as you age, you can blame it on your circadian rhythm. Going to bed earlier also means waking up earlier, a pattern called advanced sleep phase syndrome. Changing up bedtimes and rise times can affect this rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep, and harder to wake up. Try set regular bedtimes and alarms to wake up, rather than letting yourself sleep in until you wake. This will set a regular rhythm for your body to follow, and you will eventually adjust to sleeping these times without regulation.

Turn off your TV or computer an hour before bed.

It’s well known that bright lights keep you awake before bed. Try putting down your devices and turning off the TV at least an hour before bed and picking up a good book instead. This will help you wind down and start telling your mind that it’s time to slow down.

Spend less time in bed.

If your problem is with falling asleep in the first place, try spend less time in bed. Training your body and brain to recognise bed as a place to sleep is the best thing for falling asleep quicker. If you spend hours in bed while awake, you won’t associate it with sleeping and your brain is less likely to slow down and recognise when it’s time to sleep.

If you try these tips and tricks and still don’t notice a change in your sleep habits and feeling tired, consult your GP. Getting older doesn’t mean accepting restless sleep, there are always options to try and ways to make sure you’re sleeping soundly and waking up rested.