French novelist Jules Verne once said, “Though sleep is called our best friend, it is a friend who often keeps us waiting!”
Caregivers and senior citizens are both familiar with what a struggle it can be to practice healthy sleep habits and routines. When aiding an elderly patient, caregivers may not know how to ensure that their senior gets an ample amount of sleep at the right times. Senior citizens, whose bodily, emotional, and mental well-being depends on the cornerstone need of sleep, feel frustration first-hand when they are not able to get a good night’s rest.
There are multiple reasons why senior citizens often have a difficult time sleeping well. Along with the physical changes in our bodies that affect sleep as we age, the “sleep architecture,” or patterns of our sleep, also change. Seniors experience changes in their circadian rhythms, which coordinate the timing of bodily functions. In addition to changes in sleep schedules, problems arise when seniors suffer from insomnia, Alzheimers, sleep apnea, or sleep-inhibiting side effects from medications.
Most preferably, the solution to securing better sleep for seniors does not entail increasing medication or simply suffering through the problem. Instead, we have found six clever tricks to help you sleep, with no prescription or hard labor needed. Try these home solutions to help you or your senior loved one sleep like a baby!
Monitoring seniors’ medication takes assertive and thorough communication with both patients and doctors. When a medication affects a physical need as important as sleep, someone must take initiative to bring the issue to the doctor’s attention, and negotiate the options a senior has to either stop taking the medication, replace it, reduce the dosage, or make health behavior adjustments to cushion the medical need.
Fortunately, there are natural remedies to aid sleep. These do not impose the strong chemicals that prescription drugs do, and are not as harmful to the body. Melatonin is a supplement available over-the-counter in drugstores or groceries. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles. In the body, natural melatonin decreases with age, so seniors may need more to maintain regular body clock controls of their sleep. Valerian root is another natural remedy used to treat sleep disorders, especially insomnia. It acts like a sedative on the nervous system, and can even ease anxiety and depression.
Take a Hot Bath
Our body temperatures naturally drop at night, around two hours before sleep. To help induce sleep, take a hot bath before going to bed. The warmth of the bath will increase your body temperature, and comfort you as well. After your bath, your body temperature will cool down rapidly, which relaxes you. The steeper the drop in body temperature at bedtime, the more likely you will fall into a deep sleep.
Listen to White Noise
White noise barely sounds like noise at all. That is the secret to its success in helping you sleep. White noise is a consistent noise that is even across all hearing frequencies. When played through a white noise machine, or a speaker, the noise buffers all other noise disturbances that are louder and more inconsistent with your quiet bedroom. For example, seniors who have trouble sleeping in rooms close to traffic, trains, or other noisy roommates are easily disturbed by abrupt sounds.
White noise is not disturbing at all. When a noise wakes you up in the night, it is not the noise itself, but the sudden change in noises around you that jerks you awake. White noise will mask this inconsistency and ensure a quiet, peaceful sleep.
Studies show that being active during the day promote healthy sleep. The body undergoes calming relaxation from dropping in temperature after heating up during exercise. This helps you physically relax into bed when the time is right. Also, the mere exersion of using your muscles, bones, and mind to exercise leads to tiredness that only sleep can satisfy.
Darken the Room
Our bodies are sensitive to light when we sleep because we have an internal clock that mirrors nature’s natural cycle of night and day. When we turn off the lights to go to sleep, this cues our internal clock to bring our body to rest. Both sunlight and artificial light impact our bodies’ internal clocks. Artificial light tricks your brain into believing it is daytime. This prevents the release of natural chemicals such as amino acids that help you fall asleep.
Use window shades that are thick enough to block evening light for seniors who go to bed early. Try installing a light dimmer in their bedroom to dim the lights as they get ready for bed, and transition them towards darkness while they sleep. Place paper or picture frames in front of appliances that emit artificial light, such as digital clocks, to make sure the room is completely dark. Finally, discourage the use of electronic devices such as phones, computers or tablets before going to sleep.
Snack on Tryptophan
Choose wisely when you decide to snack on something before you sleep. Seniors may have early dinners since they go to bed earlier than the general population. Afterwards, a small bedtime snack is alright to have before going to sleep. In fact, foods such as turkey, eggs, chicken and nuts contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid building block to the sleep-related chemical serotonin. Carbohydrates enable tryptophan to help you sleep, so pairing tryptophan snacks with crackers, peanut butter, or milk make delightful, small snacks that seniors can enjoy before sleeping well.
“Seven Clever Tricks to Help you Sleep,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog contributor.