A good night’s sleep is one of the most effective tools known to enhance mental and physical stamina. A chronic lack of sleep can be linked to certain symptoms, including poor concentration, dizziness, headaches, weight gain, depression and general fatigue throughout the day. With maturity comes change, including the amount of time we are able to devote to regular sleep cycles. Sleep deprivation may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it’s much more than a nuisance! In fact, research tells us that those with ongoing insomnia are at a higher risk for developing serious chronic illnesses, such as Diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people 50 and over require between 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night to maintain good health and mental focus. The foundation points to specifics that can enhance the sleep mood. To begin with, avoid alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco products since they are sleep disrupters, as is chocolate (you know what they say…”everything in moderation”). Of course, it’s important to eliminate caffeine prior to bedtime and in the late afternoon. Instead, reach for a healthy snack of yogurt or nuts to boost afternoon slumps. Caffeine-free coffee and tea can be substituted in moderation to minimize the jitters, or you may want to enjoy the benefits of drinking an herbal tea, such as chamomile, before bedtime to relieve stress and relax your muscles. Celestial Seasonings even has an herbal tea called Sleepytime® – just typing the word name makes me drowsy!
Also, if possible, try to avoid the regular use of prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids to prevent dependency issues that could lead to depression. Melatonin may just do the trick to aid the sleep cycle with a natural approach – but, as always, it’s best to talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine. Also, if you’re going natural I hear lots of people spray magnesium oil on the tops of their feet before they hit the sack – worth a try!
Try to turn your bedroom into a comfort zone that is conducive to restful sleep. Layer windows with functioning treatments, such as traversing draperies and operable blinds that can block out light when a daytime sleep-in is called for (this also tends to provide extra insulation during weather extremes). Place reading materials nearby with adequate lighting and comfortable back support to enhance restful sleep. Resist the urge to leave your cell phone bedside, unless it is part of your security plan, and consider muting the ringer to avoid unwanted wake-up calls. If your bedroom includes a sitting area, you probably also have a TV. While enjoying the entertainment value it offers in the privacy of your bedroom is appealing, try to avoid depending on the TV as a crutch to help you fall asleep. Instead, opt for listening to soft, instrumental music to relax your mind at bedtime. And most definitely shut down your internet connection at least an hour before bedtime! The National Sleep Foundation has compiled six easy-to-accomplish and cost-free tips to help ensure that your bedroom environment is ideal for sleep. They say you should “take the time to design a sleep-friendly bedroom environment so that you can wake up each morning feeling refreshed.” Makes sense!
Although regular exercise is important, complete vigorous workouts at least 3 hours before hitting the sack. A warm bath and a glass of milk may sound a bit old fashioned, but folks claim that the combination before bed encourages slumber. Even an occasional beer before bedtime may help, since the hops in most brews can ease digestion and soothe stomach spasms, while promoting sleep. I tried it, I liked it, just sayin’…..On another note, avoid turning up the thermostat at bedtime, as resting body temperatures require less heat and you will relax better in a room that is dark, cool and comfortable.
It’s suggested that you “let sleep work for you” rather than fight against the perpetual time clock we are all born with. Turn to the restorative power of sleep when you experience fatigue and don’t feel like you have to explain yourself to others if a power nap is on the horizon or becomes part of your regular routine – just do it! However, ensure that it really is just a power nap. Afternoon naps that consistently exceed much beyond an hour may indicate the lack of proper rest at night, or perhaps chronic sleep apnea. Check with your physician if long naps become a main component in your regular sleep cycle.
Before closing I must confess I’ve always suffered from insomnia so I recently tried a new breathing trick I heard about from Dr. Andrew Weil. I’m happy to report it seems to be working for me! It’s called the “4-7-8” or Relaxing Breathe Exercise. Here’s how you do it:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Sweet dreams should be a regular part of your sleep cycle. Practice silent mindfulness prior to shutting down your mind for the night – they say if you focus on something pleasant instead of counting sheep your dreams just might come true!