All in a good night’s sleep – Tips for Healthy Sleeping Habits

bedAs I begin compiling this blog post, I am in the middle of working another night shift at St. Anne’s. I enjoy night work and am glad to help out in this way when needed.  However, someone recently commented that doing this “isn’t very healthy.”   I begged to differ that an occasional night shift isn’t the end of the world; it’s better to be available when there’s a staffing problem than to selfishly say “I need my beauty rest.”  However, I realize that healthy sleeping habits are important and deserve consideration, especially as people age.  In this article, I’d like to share with you some of what I found about healthy sleeping habits, especially for seniors. How much sleep do you get? How much do you need?  I’ve wondered this myself.  According to an article on senior sleep habits (sited later in this article), “most healthy adults tend to require between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best.”  They did note, however, that needs vary for different individuals. According to, “consistently going to sleep and rising at the same time leaves people feeling “much more refreshed and energized.”  They suggest resisting the urge to stay up late and sleep in on weekends.  They even suggested napping to compensate for missed zees, rather than sleeping in late.  However, this same site warned about the dangers involved in napping, with the risk of causing insomnia.  Not napping too late in the day, and also limiting the nap to 30 minutes are a couple of ways of reducing this risk. An article by the Mayo Clinic also stresses the importance of maintaining a sleep schedule.  This same article suggests limiting naps.  It also shares some helpful information about the two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement — or NREM sleep — and rapid eye movement — or REM sleep. NREM sleep…We cycle through the NREM-REM stages of sleep approximately every 90 minutes.”  (The deepness of sleep depends on this.) The helpguide article shared that one important factor in sleeping ease and sleepiness is exposure to light.  To help with alertness, increase your exposure to light and take advantage of daylight outdoors.  On the other hand, when you’re trying to fall asleep, don’t use the TV or computer, as these can hinder your ability to sleep.  I’ve even heard it said that a person should not use the computer for an hour before going to bed as it may cause difficulty in falling asleep.  Avoiding bright lights, both before bed and when getting up at night, is also suggested.  Following a set bedtime routine is another way of helping your body get into “sleep mode.”  Some examples include: reading a book or magazine (using soft light), taking a warm bath, listening to soft music, making little preparations for tomorrow, and winding down with a hobby.  Some of these same practices can be applied if you wake in the middle of the night. Keeping your bedroom free of noise and also at a comfortable temperature also can help. You don’t want it too hot or too cool, as this can make sleeping difficult. Another thing that can keep you from sleeping is worrying; there may be a lot that has to be done the coming day.   Although some people offer relaxation exercises, why not try something as simple as making “to-do list.”  A time of prayer before bed, entrusting these and other worries to our Lord, is a great way to conclude the day that is past and prepare for sleep.  (Check out my article on Our Franciscan Fiat for an explanation on doing a daily examen in the evening.)  This can be a helpful bedtime “ritual.” Another article by this same source ( shares information more specific to seniors:  It is noted that changes in sleep patterns (earlier sleeping and waking and less deep sleep) are normal.   Insomnia, however, is not to be accepted as part of aging.  In fact, good sleep is important for seniors for helping with concentration and memory; it also lets your body repair cell damage and “refreshes your immune system.  Actually, if you are a senior who doesn’t sleep well, you are more suseptable to “depression, attention and memory problems, and excessive daytime sleepiness [as well as] more nighttime falls [and] increased sensitivity to pain.  Also, you’re likely to “use more prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids.”  This same source about seniors also noted that “insufficient sleep can also lead to…an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems, and breast cancer in women.” An article by the Sleep Foundation also pointed out that people tend to have a harder time falling (and staying) asleep as they age. Although seniors still need the same sleep, they tend to have less deep sleep (including less REM sleep).  Consequently, they may need to spend a longer time in bed to get the quality sleep they need.  This source also pointed out that insomnia is more frequent among seniors. According to the helpguide article, one issue at hand in senior sleep needs is the fact that your body makes less growth hormone as you age, leading to lessening of deep sleep and melatonin production.  According to Mayo, seniors may also be more sensitive to noise and environmental factors, which may hinder sleep.  While all this is normal, there are some causes of insomnia in older adults that we should note.  The leaders among these include:

  • Poor sleep habits and sleep environment [with] irregular sleep hours, consumption of alcohol before bedtime, and falling asleep with the TV on
  • Pain or medical illness, including need to urinate, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis, nighttime heartburn and menopause
  • Medications
  • Lack of exercise
  • Psychological stress or psychological disorders, including anxiety or sadness
  • Sleep disorders
  • Learned response – due to some cause (e.g., grief), you get in the habit of not sleeping, which persists even after the initial cause is gone.

Conversely, this article also shared some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Activity: social, work, volunteer, and family
  • Exercise regularly. This can help with mood and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.  Also, if you’ve worked hard by exercise, you’ll be more ready to sleep well.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine (stimulants that interfere with the quality of your sleep)
  • Minimize liquid intake before sleep

One thought on “All in a good night’s sleep – Tips for Healthy Sleeping Habits

  1. I loved this post. As I near my 71st birthday, I find that over the past 10 years, my body has started a new sleep routine. Around 2 pm, without yawning or other signals of tiredness, I might drop off to sleep. Literally, drop off!

    It started when I helped care for 50+ horses for my daughter & son-in-law in California. Around 2 pm, I might be doing something around the house & find things slipping out of my hands. If I went outside to give the horses water, the garden hose might slip out of my hands or my head might nod. I learned to give in. Many times I would be alone. I was far from any neighbor or friend in a rural community (the full month of February and several other 7 to 10 day trips my family would be out of state). I could not afford to get into a situation where I would not be available when needed. Horses can find ways to get into problems where they need human assistance. So, I learned to take 30 minutes to an hour & lay down on the couch. Then I would wake to make myself a cup of coffee. I called it “The Second Shift”.

    When I started work at the newspaper office, my nap routine continued. Around 2 pm, my head would start to nod. I might be on the phone with a client or on the computer. A client might say, “Are you still there?” Since I was in the reception area of the office from 8-6 each weekday, I had to meet & greet the people who brought information for their ads. I no longer had the privilege of a nap, so I would go right into the cup of coffee or another & then another. Often I was teased by a co-worker that I should brew that coffee with Red Bull rather than water. In spite of this downfall, I was able to maintain the quantity & quality of my work.

    Unlike many other people, caffeine does not keep me from falling to sleep. Long ago, I noticed I can drink coffee right before going to bed. I have always reserved the time for prayer at bedtime & feel it relieves my mind from worry. My doctor recently suggested I have a sleep study but I don’t have an appointment yet. Here are some things she said:
    1.Bulbs replicating daylight are often used as an aid to correct depression, seasonal affective disorder & reset your biological clock controlling sleeping and waking. I have this type bulb in my magnifying lamp.
    2, Early morning sunlight is the most helpful, so try to walk prior to or just after breakfast when the weather is nice. Exercise earlier in the day.
    3. Never hesitate to ask your doctor if your medication could be keeping you up. Perhaps he can prescribe something else.
    4. Control your heartburn & spicy foods.
    5. Do something (have a hobby or read) to wind down from a busy day.
    6. Check your mattress & pillow – do you need to replace them or turn them in a different direction? I sold mattresses & this is very often overlooked & taken for granted.
    7. Not only do electronics like a TV or computer upset your sleep patterns late at night. The blue light they emit (sometimes even on an electric clock radio) can create electric impulses to affect good sleep. If you must keep these in your room, move them as far away from your bed as possible.
    (My doctor referred me to this website:


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