How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep as You Get Older

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Contributor, Benzinga
March 27, 2023

Do you want to live longer, be happier, have more energy, enjoy more robust health, and experience a life that is better in every way?

If you answered yes to those questions, you only need to do one thing . . . 

Get a better night’s sleep every time you go to bed

That’s a simple piece of advice, but it is difficult to follow. In fact, failing to get a good night’s sleep is one of the most common complaints made by people as they age. 

And failing to sleep well is a more serious health concern than many of us realize. If you toss and turn and spend time lying awake every night, you are likely to experience a range of problems that can include depression, drowsiness when driving, poor balance, and even grumpiness that can disrupt relationships with your friends and family members.

But there are many steps you can take to sleep better. Let’s take a closer look.

Problem: Getting Up in the Night to Use the Bathroom

Let’s explore this issue first, because it is a big contributor to diminishing the length and quality of sleep for so many people. 

This problem affects aging men especially, because many of them experience enlarged prostate glands – a condition that increases the urge to urinate at night and which can cause men to get up several times at night to use the bathroom. It also explains why one of the first question your physician will ask you when you have a check-up is, “How many times a night do you get up to urinate?”

Note that in general, men are more likely than women to experience this problem.

Getting up often at night to urinate is a common problem that has no easy solution. If you avoid drinking water and other liquids in the hours before you go to bed, that can lead to dehydration, which can lead to kidney disease and other significant health problems. 

You probably can’t find a way to avoid getting up several times at night to go to the bathroom. But you can find ways to help you fall back asleep after you get up in the night to urinate. Some people report that this issue can be resolved by taking steps like these when you return to bed:

  • Practice deep breathing exercises or meditation to quiet your mind
  • Experiment with herbal sleep remedies like Melatonin
  • Distract yourself by reading or visualizing yourself in a pleasant locale
  • Pay attention to some of the sleep remedies that we will explain in the rest of this article, which can help you get back to sleep without effort

Those practices will help avoid the tendency to lie in bed thinking, “Why can’t I get back to sleep?” or, “How many hours until I have to get up?”

But finding some gentle ways to direct your mind toward other considerations – pleasant and relaxing ones – can help you get back to sleep effortlessly. 

Techniques that Have Been Shown to Improve Sleep

Maintain a Regular Daily Schedule

We all have an “internal clock” that can help our bodies fall into similar daily sleep patterns – provided we observe them every day. If you go to bed at 10:00 P.M. for only two days, you will find that your mind and your body will come to “expect” that – and you will fall asleep more easily. 

The general rule is that going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate your body's sleep cycle. 

Exercise Daily, But Not in the Two or Three Hours Before Going to Bed

There is no doubt that exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep. When you are physically tired – in a healthy way – that creates a need for your body to rest, which can make it easier for you to fall and remain asleep.

The secret is to avoid exercise – which increases your heart and breathing rates – in the hours just before you retire. 

One exception to experiment with is to take a 15–30-minute walk, at a comfortable pace, after your evening meal. Many people report that this routine helps them fall asleep when they go to bed several hours later.  These walks can provide other benefits too, such as lowering blood sugar levels in individuals with pre-diabetes and diabetes. It is well worth trying.

Practice a Regular Pre-Bedtime Routine

Taking a warm bath or listening to soothing music can help calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep. Also, many people report that reading in bed, or before retiring, can be a wonderful way to fall asleep.

Experiment with Your Consumption of Caffeine 

In general, it is probably best to avoid drinking coffee, caffeinated tea, or caffeinated soft drinks after mid-afternoon. They can increase your heart and breathing rates, making it more difficult to relax or fall asleep. 

Yet some people report that suddenly stopping all caffeinated drinks can spur a “rebound” and make it more difficult to fall asleep. So be easy on yourself and introduce changes gradually. 

Try Adjusting Your Intake of Alcoholic Beverages Too

Alcohol presents a set of sleep-related difficulties that can become more disruptive as we grow older. Even though a glass of wine or a beer with dinner or afterwards can help make us drowsy, they commonly produce an upward bounce in blood sugar levels that can wake us up after midnight and make it hard to fall back to sleep after we do. There are no hard and fast rules about whether alcohol can disrupt your sleep. 

The best advice is to experiment with cutting down on your intake of alcohol to see whether drinking less, or stopping your intake of alcoholic beverages, will improve your ability to fall and stay asleep. There are no rules that apply to everyone. Experiment and find what is best for you.

Adjust the Sleep Environment in Your Bedroom

There are no hard and fast rules about how you should set up your bedroom. So . . . experiment and see what works best for you. Here are some adjustments that people report can improve their ability to fall and stay asleep. If you try them and adjust, you could make some discoveries that will help you sleep better:

  • Turn down the temperature. Many people report that a cool room is more conducive to sleep.
  • Try sleeping with a heavier or weighted blanket. Weighted blankets are a bit of a fad. But some users report that they really do improve sleep.
  • Try sleeping with a small electronic device that generates white noise, the sound of rain, or other soothing sounds. Some people love these inexpensive devices. They are certainly worth a try.
  • Experiment with a variety of different pillows. A deep, soft pillow might seem luxurious, but is not necessarily most conducive to sleep. Many people report that a slightly firmer pillow that supports their neck and head encourages sleep more effectively.
  • Swap sides of the bed with your bedmate, if you have one. A little variety of this kind could help shake up your sleep patterns in positive ways.  
  • Reduce the amount of light that comes into your bedroom. If light comes in from windows – even a small amount of light from a streetlight or other source - consider covering them with light-limiting shades. People also report that light-limiting shades help them sleep later in the morning, which can add to quality sleep time.
  • Experiment with some herbal and other sleep remedies. Some people report that they sleep better when they take Melatonin or other “natural” sleep herbal supplements. Other people report that over-the-counter medications like Tylenol PM Sleep Aid help them fall asleep and then fall back to sleep if they have awakened after midnight or in the early hours of the day. Could be! But please be aware that even “natural” drugs and supplements are medications that can have side-effects or trigger reactions with other drugs you take. So speak with your physician before trying them or adding them to the selection of medications that you take daily.

What About Limiting Your Exposure to “Blue Light”?

The idea has become widely accepted that when people are exposed to “blue light,” which is emitted by the displays on smartphones, laptops, televisions and computer tablets, their circadian sleep patterns are disrupted, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep. 

Even an authority like The Sleep Foundation states that exposure to blue light will exert a negative influence on your sleep patterns:

“The screens of electronic devices such as smartphones, computers, tablets, and televisions can emit blue light that disrupts our natural sleep cycles. Research shows that a majority of Americans use electronic devices within an hour of going to bed, which can lead to unsatisfactory sleep. Decreasing exposure to light in the evening, and blue light in particular, is an important way to help your body naturally prepare for sleep and get quality rest.”

  • Source: “How Blue Light Affects Sleep” by Rob Newsom and Abhinav Singh, The Sleep Foundation

Furthermore, the National Library of Medicine cites a variety of studies that indicate that only a few hours of exposure to blue light can disrupt sleep patterns.

However, we know a number of people who happily read books and other materials on their tablets or phones at bedtime, without experiencing any problem sleeping. Some even report that reading in bed is an effective way to induce drowsiness. So our advice to you is, do not accept the advice to avoid phones and tablets as “gospel” when it comes to sleeping better. 

Please experiment, find your own patterns, and come to your own conclusions.

In Conclusion . . . 

Sleep success does not result from doing what everyone else does, but in identifying what works best for you.