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How to Create a Sleep Sanctuary, and Other Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

13 habits to give your body the rest it needs

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Nothing is better than an excellent night’s sleep, and good sleep is one of the cornerstones of good physical and mental health. Yet after age 50, many of us struggle to feel well rested.

“You don’t have to have a primary sleep disorder to have less than optimal sleep quality,” says Vijay Ramanan, M.D., a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic. “A range of things, from lifestyle during the day to routines at night, can have a big impact. The great thing about lifestyle modifications is that they are in our hands.”

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Here is our guide to achieving your best sleep.

Sleep in the dark

Your body’s sleep habits usually operate on a circadian rhythm, which is heavily influenced by the light/dark cycles of the sun. Darkness is best for firing up the body’s production of melatonin, a sleep hormone that dwindles as we age. You can also ease into sleep with low lighting for a couple hours before bed. Use light-blocking curtains or an eye mask to keep light out of your eyes at night.

Create a sleep sanctuary in your bedroom

Pajamas and bedding should be made of natural fibers to help with body temperature, which naturally drops when you sleep. Turn the heat down or keep a fan running if you feel hot. Fans can also provide white noise, which some feel helps them fall asleep. Use a pillow that supports your neck as well as your head to avoid waking up sore.

Put away screens at least an hour before bed

The blue light radiating from digital devices affects melatonin production. Instead, read a book, do some relaxing breathing or meditate before bed to calm your body and mind.

Maintain a consistent schedule for going to bed and waking up

Your circadian rhythm likes a set schedule. One hour’s difference is about all you can change when you rise or sleep without affecting your overall rest quality. Adults over age 50 need at least seven hours of sleep daily, so factor that in when you’re planning activities.

“Routine helps our sleep-wake cycle. If someone is waking at different times each day, it’s likely they will struggle to fall asleep or maintain sleep throughout the night,” writes Kristen Casey, a licensed psychologist and insomnia specialist in Kansas City, Missouri, and author of the book The Insomnia Doc’s Guide to Restful Sleep.

If you drink caffeine, do it early

Even if you fall asleep easily, caffeine can interfere with your sleep quality. Most experts say to avoid it for at least eight hours before bedtime.


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Move your body midmorning or midafternoon. Exercising too early or too late in the day can affect your ability to fall asleep. 

“People who are more sedentary throughout the day have a low sleep drive,” says Casey. “The sleep drive is our body’s biological need for sleep. When that is low, our body doesn’t recognize the ‘need’ for sleep, even if we are exhausted!”

Maintain a healthy diet

Eating a nutritious diet offers many sleep benefits, according to scientists at Columbia University. Eating enough throughout the day also helps prevent hunger or binge eating before bed, which fires up the digestive system and can keep you awake. Don’t eat for at least a few hours before bedtime.

Naps can harm your sleep

If you absolutely must have a snooze, do it early in the afternoon for no longer than 20 minutes.

Avoid alcohol in the evening

A small nightcap might help bring on drowsiness, but too much alcohol circulating through your body can disrupt your sleep.

Practice good oral health

Dental issues, even easily addressed problems like grinding or clenching your teeth, can disrupt your sleep. Regular visits to the dentist will help ensure your dental health isn’t stealing sleep.

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Try to avoid bathroom breaks

This one is tough! As we age, we just can’t “hold it” like we did in our younger days. To help, avoid drinking liquids after dinner, and empty your bladder just before you settle in for sleep.

Get sunlight as soon as possible after waking

Natural sun for 15 minutes is preferable, but bright lights for 30 minutes can also wind down your body’s natural production of melatonin.

Melatonin has become popular for fighting sleep problems and it is easy to get over the counter, but it is best to talk to your doctor before taking it or supplements on your own, says Ramanan. Melatonin can have potential risks, like negative interactions with other medications you take. Sedatives can also be risky. Casey says a doctor can review your medications and when you take them to ensure yours aren’t causing sleep disturbances in any way.

Consult the experts

If you’ve tried all of the above consistently for a month or more and you are still not getting a satisfying sleep, see your doctor. Women over 50 could be experiencing menopause-related concerns that disrupt their sleep, while men have been found to suffer from sleep apnea two to three times as often as women, according to Ramanan. And these are just two of the numerous possible conditions only a doctor can treat. Be sure to discuss your mental well-being with your doctor as well, because anxiety or depression can also make sleep difficult.

And if your partner’s snoring keeps you awake, ask them to see their doctor about it. There are treatments!

As much as awareness and treatment are important to getting your best sleep, try to avoid obsessing about sleep right before bed. Doing so can cause anxiety that prevents the very thing you’re hoping to achieve. If you incorporate a sleep-optimizing lifestyle with your doctor’s advice, restful sleep should be within your grasp.

Share Your Experience: What daily habit helps you get to sleep? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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