Sleep can be a fickle thing, here one night and gone the next. And if you aren’t 18 any more, beware: your night’s sleep duration will shrink as you age.
“By the time you’re in your 60s the data suggests the average person will have 30 to 60 minutes of time after they go to bed and after they wake up when they’re awake (in bed),” says Steven Altchuler M.D., Ph.D., at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine. “That’s a normal change as we age. It’s normal, and not bad. So don’t panic about it.”
However, there are steps to take to help you sleep better more consistently. Here are five tips from Dr. Altchuler for achieving a restorative night’s sleep.
1. Keep consistent timing.
This means go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you don’t, you’re treating your body to a constant sense of jet lag, Dr. Altchuler says. It’s a bit like going to bed in Los Angeles one night, Chicago the next, and Nova Scotia the third. If you fluxuate your bedtime between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. nightly “you get chronically jet lagged,” he says. “You have trouble sleeping well, you feel chronically fatigued.” Don’t abuse your body this way.
Getting up at a regular time is also very important, because “It helps keep our body rhythm in sync,” the doctor says.
2. Nap early in the afternoon.
Other cultures are dead on with their concept of a siesta. However, limit naps to less than half an hour, and take them earlier in the day rather than later. Again, you don’t want to disturb your internal body clock with constant alterations in sleep patterns.
“If you take too long of a nap, you go into that stage of sleep that’s hard to wake up from,” Dr. Altchuler says. “You wake up feeling groggy instead of feeling refreshed.”
3. Avoid all screens before bedtime.
Computers, TVs, even phones and tablets, should be avoided. This might be the hardest rule to abide by. Dr. Altchuler cautions even using Apple’s night mode for your iPhone’s glow won’t protect your body from the harm of screen time before bed. Screen lights signal to your body the same message that early morning light does – it’s time to wake up. Pre-bedtime screen use risks throwing off the whole synchronization of your sleep regimen.
4. Reserve the bed for intimacy and sleep.
Having trouble falling asleep? Get up and do something relaxing (note: not your phone) for 15 minutes. Then try going back to bed. Remind your body consistently that bed is for sleep, not for watching TV or cruising news or social media sites.
5. Lay off the booze.
This is simple – alcohol use in the evening disturbs sleep patterns, so you may want to reconsider your standard evening cocktail hour.