Top tips and tricks for a better night’s rest

There’s nothing quite like crawling into the comfort of a soft, warm bed every night. But how often do you lie there staring at the ceiling, or toss and turn trying to get into a comfortable sleeping position? 

Getting a good night’s sleep is so important to our health, but it can be easier said than done.

To help us offer the best advice, we chatted to Pratiksha Ramji, a sleep physiologist CPRB at Auckland Sleep, and Dan Ford MA(Hons), PGDipCBT, CertCBT-I, MEMDRAA, Regd NZPsB, another sleep psychologist for The Better Sleep Clinic. You’ll find their expert advice throughout this piece. 

How much sleep should you get?

Everyone is unique and has their own needs for sleep, but the rule of thumb for adults over the age of 65 is to aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. 

Typically, you know you haven’t had enough sleep if you’re feeling tired and sleepy during the day. You can even build up a ‘sleep debt’ over time if you go several nights in a row without sleeping enough – in which case you’ll have to ‘repay’ that debt (presumably to Mr Sandman). 

In these scenarios, consistently disrupted sleep can have many negative consequences on your physical health and quality of life, including increasing your risk of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Understanding sleep needs and changes with age 

“There are many changes that occur with ageing; we become wiser, our relationships grow stronger, and we develop a greater appreciation for life. We also gain greater physical awareness and have more time to pursue hobbies. Sleep is another factor that changes with age,” explains Pratiksha. 

Pratiksha also talked about the importance of naps, and how they can help be part of a natural sleep schedule for over 65s (but who doesn’t love a good nap, honestly). 

“Roughly 40% of older people nap for 30 minutes daily. Most people over 80 years of age nap for more than one hour each day. It is normal to nap with age; the trick is to experiment with what works for you,” she said. 

Why is sleep important for seniors? 

According to Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation, getting enough sleep is crucial for overall health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can have significant impact on a person’s quality of life and increase the risk of developing health conditions. 

The health benefits of quality sleep include everything from getting sick less often, reducing stress to improving your mood, maintaining a healthy weight, regulating your appetite and metabolism and even lowering the risk of serious health problems. 

Factors that influence your sleep 

As well as your age, there are other factors that will influence your sleep. These can include past sleep deprivation, health conditions, being on medication, needing the loo in the wee hours, and whether you are frequently woken in the night. 

What could cause lack of sleep? 

Not sure why you’re struggling to sleep? Here are some of the most common causes.

Age-related sleep disorders 

“If you’ve tried all the tips on the internet and sleep is still poor, you may have a sleep disorder. Insomnia and sleep apnoea risk increase with age. Reach out to a sleep specialist for expert support,” suggests Dan Ford. 

Insomnia and sleep apnoea are common age-related complaints, but you might also be facing anxiety, snoring, restless leg syndrome, or pain from arthritis. As Dan suggests, a sleep specialist can be the best person to help with these challenges. 

Lifestyle factors and sleep hygiene 

Lifestyle factors and sleep hygiene are also huge contributors to poor sleep. Sleep hygiene refers to your sleep environment and behaviours. For example, have you set up your bedroom in a way that’s conducive to a good night’s rest? 

Pratiksha suggests: “Ensure your room is dark, at a good temperature and free from external distractions. A regular sleep schedule will strengthen your body's internal clock. You can also strengthen your body clock through exposure to sunlight in the morning.”

Another lifestyle choice that can influence sleep patterns is the intake of stimulants – even tea.

“Reduce caffeine intake, especially in the evening. Many seniors forget that a cup of tea still contains caffeine. An evening cuppa has around 50% of the caffeine of a coffee,” explains Dan. 

In the same vein, Dan recommends reducing your liquid intake before bedtime, particularly if you are often woken during the night needing to use the facilities. Start tapering off your drinks in the mid-afternoon and re-hydrate with plenty of water when you wake up in the morning. 

Excessive napping  

While napping is a normal part of sleep routines for many Kiwis, both Pratiksha and Dan warn against napping too much. This can interfere with the sleep you get at night. 

Dan recommends keeping naps short at less than 20 minutes each and aim to keep them before 3pm. 

Ways to improve sleep and get better rest 

As well as changing behaviours to reduce sleep disruptions, you may also be able to make some changes that will help you sleep better. 

For example, you can get active during the day. A brisk walk is a quick and easy way to keep fit and potentially improve your sleep habits. “The more vigorous the better. Exercise improves sleep quality via deeper sleep,” says Dan. 

Another idea is to try exercises to help you relax before bed. “If you are not able to sleep, try not to get frustrated; mindfulness techniques such as meditation, journalling or a warm bath before bed may help,” suggests Pratiksha. 

Meditation has been found to help reduce stress, so this calming exercise could potentially help you sleep better if stress is keeping you up at night. 

Seeking medical advice and treatment 

The occasional bout of poor sleep is not unusual, but if you’ve tried some of these simple steps at home and still aren’t seeing improvements, it might be time to seek medical advice and treatment from a professional. 

And if you’re looking for more ways to improve your well-being, look no further! Get protection and peace of mind knowing that your loves ones are financially protected should the worse happen with our Seniors Life Insurance. Request a quote online, or get in touch today with any questions at all.      

This article is an opinion only, provided for general information purposes. It does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals and shouldn’t be considered or relied upon as personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions and prior to undertaking physical activity.