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4 Easy ways to sleep better

BY Nicole Pajer

13th Mar 2023 Wellbeing

4 Easy ways to sleep better

Here are some easy ways to improve your sleep if you're struggling, especially if stress is keeping you up

With everything going on in the world these days, it’s no wonder so many of us are struggling to sleep. Almost 40 per cent of people surveyed in 13 countries have reported sleep issues over the past two years, according to research in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. It’s normal to wake up at night, especially as you age, but negative news can activate your mind and make it hard to fall back asleep.

"It’s normal to wake up at night, especially as you age, but negative news can activate your mind and make it hard to fall back asleep"

Even if you’re not up late fretting, sleeping can be a struggle. By age 60, we tend to wake up more, snooze for shorter periods, and get less sleep than younger people. Simple steps such as setting the thermostat between 15.5 and 19.5 degrees Celsius at night and turning off screens 30 minutes before bedtime can help. The following tips can help, too.

1. Test your pillow

Easy steps to better sleep—an older woman struggling to sleepBad sleep could be down to something as simple as your pillow. Photo: TatyanaGI

If you bought your pillow in 2020, guess what? It’s already old. The National Sleep Foundation recommends replacing them every one to two years. A pillow past its prime can cause neck and shoulder pain—and restless sleep. “When your brain is sending pain signals, it can’t also send sleep signals,” says Dr. Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist in Los Angeles.

To buy the right pillow, determine your sleep style. If you sleep on your back, look for a thinner pillow made of supportive foam. If you sleep on your side, a thicker pillow is better.

2. Get an hour of sunlight each day

Morning sunlight is important for good sleep. “It turns off the melatonin tap in your brain, which helps relieve the groggy morning feeling,” Breus says. It also sets a mental timer to produce melatonin, the so-called sleep hormone, that evening.

"Morning sunlight turns off the melatonin (sleep hormone) tap in your brain and sets a mental timer to produce melatonin that evening"

To get more rays, aim for 15 to 30 minutes of direct light in the morning. Next, take two 15-minute outdoor breaks during the day. The light cues your brain that it’s time to be awake and prevents you from producing melatonin before bedtime. When you’re inside, open the shades.

3. Skip salty snacks before bed

Young man with his head in his hands at night, struggling to sleep
Cutting back on salty snacks like crisps can reduce your nighttime bathroom trips. Photo credit: tommaso79

Want to reduce those annoying nighttime trips to the bathroom? Cut back on peanuts and crisps. In a Japanese study, researchers followed 321 patients with high-salt diets and sleep issues for 12 weeks. When people cut down on salt, their average bathroom trips decreased from twice a night to once. And those who consumed more salt woke up more frequently to go to the bathroom.

The urge to urinate late at night (known as nocturia) can make it harder to fall back to sleep, leading to fatigue, increased napping and even depression, says Dr Rafael Pelayo, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and the author of How to Sleep.

4. Tackle your troubles before dinner

If you need an airing of grievances with your spouse, don’t wait until nighttime. Tough discussions are less likely to disrupt your slumber if you initiate them earlier rather than later.

"Tough discussions are less likely to disrupt your slumber if you initiate them earlier rather than later"

“Right before dinner is a good time to work things out,” says Ashley Mason, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. If you start an argument after dinner, your quarreling can continue until bedtime. That’s a problem because arguments can activate your sympathetic nervous system, which can disturb sleep. Some research even suggests that going to bed angry may make you surly the next morning.

The AARP Bulletin (December 2021) Copyright © 2021 by AARP

Banner photo credit: meeko media

Read more: Sleep: How it changes as you age

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