In my last blog posting, I shared information and new research regarding sleep needs in our elders. Older adults are prone to sleep difficulties and, therefore, their sleep efficiency (the ratio of time in bed to time asleep) is poor. Individuals who have lived with sleep-related disorders (e.g., fibromyalgia) learn ways to promote sleep efficiency. The following are some of the techniques and rituals that I have found are helpful for falling asleep and enhancing beneficial, sound sleep.
- Reduce screen time in front of television and electronics in the evenings for at least two hours before bedtime. These devices emit bluish-white light, which suppresses our production of melatonin, a chemical in our brain that signals us that it is time to sleep.
- Dim the lights at night a few hours before turning in for the night. This produces a calm, soothing environment for the gifted elder.
- If the older adult needs some light when getting up during the night, use a soft nightlight placed at a strategic spot to assist in navigating the dark. Some residential facilities now use softly lighted door frames, rather than bright hallway lights. Soft lights guide residents safely without encouraging wakefulness.
- Find what activity helps the gifted elder to wind down at the end of the day. It may be reading with a small reading light, sketching, knitting, doing a jigsaw or word puzzle, listening to relaxing music. Any type of quiet activity that can be developed into a nighttime ritual will serve as a trigger, telling one that it is time for the mind and body to prepare for sleep.
- Sounds from Nature – ocean waves, rain, ripples from a stream – are relaxing and useful as sleep aids. One of my treasured gifts from a son who understands my sleep difficulties is a sleep sound machine that generates these and other natural sounds.
- Some find aromatherapy helpful. Lavender, chamomile, bergamot, and sandalwood are some scents that come to mind. A few drops of one of these essential oils on a cotton ball placed near one’s pillow may be beneficial.
- Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or guided imagery may be useful in falling asleep. I have a number of scenarios of favorite places that I have visited – a restful beach, camping in the mountains, and others, that I use as guided imagery visualizations to relax and prepare me for sleep.
Sleep experts tell us to try to go to sleep and to awaken at the same time every day. This sets up our natural circadian rhythm. Also, if a nap is needed during the day, limit it to a fifteen minute or so power nap in the early afternoon. Exercise during the day is important, but it also vital that we exercise early enough during the day to allow our bodies to cool down from exercise into a more sleep receptive state.
These are just a few of the sleep techniques I have found work for me and for others. I would love for my readers to comment with other suggestions. Sleep tight!