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Lesser-Known Habits to Improve Your Sleep – at Any Age

In our previous post, we discussed several sleep related topics, including the importance of sound sleep, why sleep becomes more challenging as we age, and mistakes older adults should avoid for better sleep. [1]

Today, we're continuing to honor National Sleep Awareness Month by diving deeper into this important topic, with some less-often discussed – yet powerful – sleep tips for older adults who are looking to take their bedtime routine to the next level. [2]

What Does a Good Night's Sleep "Look Like"?

For most older adults, good sleep can be described with three main factors: duration, quality, and consistency.

While older adults typically need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, the right duration can vary; some may find that they need more sleep than others. So it's important to get to know your own personal sleep needs. [3]

As for sleep quality, ideally, older adults' sleep should be both deep and uninterrupted. This gives the body a chance to completely rest and rejuvenate each and every night. Deep sleep is especially key because it is what enables the body to repair tissues, build and strengthen bones, and restore energy levels. Moreover, quality sleep should preferably include a healthy amount of REM sleep – this is the phase of sleep when our brains are most active, and when dreams usually occur. (Some people confuse "deep sleep" with REM sleep, however the two are actually separate, distinct stages of sleep.) [4]

Consistency of sleep is also critical for older adults. Specifically, keeping a regular sleep schedule – going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – can boost sleep quality as it trains your body to sleep at certain times. This keeps the body's internal clock regulated, making it easier to both fall asleep and rise from bed each morning. [5]

Going Beyond the Basics to Improve the Quality, Quantity, and Consistency of Your Sleep

Let's assume you're already familiar with the "nuts and bolts" of healthy sleep habits. You may have already taken the initial steps toward better sleep hygiene and are now looking to take things up a notch – or, perhaps what you've tried hasn't quite worked. What comes next? [6] 

The good news is, throughout the rest of this post, we'll share some powerful tips you probably haven't tried yet! If you've been wondering how to improve sleep, these may be just what you've been looking for – whether you're leveling up your sleep hygiene or "starting from scratch." Following these easy steps can help you enjoy better quality sleep, while also waking up more refreshed and energized.

1. Keep Your Bedding Clean and Fresh

Did you know that the frequency at which you wash your bedding linens can have a significant effect on the quality of sleep you get?

According to the National Sleep Foundation: "Routine washings not only prevent dust mites and body oils from building up but can also promote better sleep." [7]

And, as this Prevention.com article states, not cleaning linens often enough can cause middle of the night breathing issues, which obviously have a negative impact on sleep. (The article also explains that some scents, like lavender, peppermint, and heliotropin, can also lead to improved sleep.) [8]

Plus, clean bedding makes you more comfortable in bed, making sleep an overall more enjoyable experience.

So make sure to wash your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets frequently to promote better sleep!

2. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that's been shown to have lots of positive effects on the mind and body – including helping you sleep better. [9]

In case you're intimidated by the word "meditation," don't be – many people find mindfulness to be a relaxing, pleasurable activity. PsychologyToday.com describes it as:

"A state of active, open attention to the present. This state is described as observing one's thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad." [10]

Doesn't that sound nice?

Best of all, you don't need any experience or training, and you can begin practicing mindfulness at any age. There are even beginner mindfulness exercises that can help you get started on this calming path to better sleep. [11]

3. Try a Weighted Blanket

A weighted blanket is a type of blanket that is filled with materials (such as plastic or glass beads) designed to make it heavier.

Do weighted blankets help you sleep better? According to this PennMedicine.org article, weighted blankets can improve sleep, by using "pressure therapy" to reduce stress and anxiety at night. This is similar to how babies sleep better when they are swaddled for extra comfort and calmness. [12]

In addition to being helpful for sleep disorders, the article also shows that weighted blankets can help with other conditions as well, including ADHD and even autism.

Plus, many people find using a weighted blanket to be an enjoyable way to sleep! Try it and see for yourself.

4. Check Your Thermostat

One often overlooked source of better sleep is simply the temperature of your bedroom.

As ClevelandClinic.com explains, the key is to avoid extremes. This is because, if your room gets too hot or too cold, you're more likely to wake up in the middle of the night (or have trouble falling asleep in the first place). This can interrupt your sleep cycles and frustrate any other efforts you're making to sleep better. [13]

According to the article above, the best temperature for sleep is somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Some simple experimenting can help you discover which end of the range works best for you.

Bonus tip: Once you figure out your ideal temperature, make sure to auto-set your thermostat to adjust to that setting each and every night. (Or make a habit of doing it manually before bed.) Since it can be difficult to get out of bed to adjust your thermostat later, building a nightly habit of getting it done before you lie down is key.

5. Take a Probiotic Supplement

While many people associate probiotic supplements with digestive health, research has shown that probiotics may also help you sleep better! (This is doubly-good news if you're one of the many people experiencing both digestive and sleep issues.) [14] [15]

This may be because probiotics stimulate the production of melatonin – the "sleep hormone" – priming your body for deeper, more restful sleep.

Probiotics may also bring you a wide array of additional health benefits, including enhanced immunity, healthier weight, improved mental health, and more. [16]

Though it's technically possible to get probiotics from foods – like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, to name a few – many older adults can probably benefit from taking a good quality probiotic supplement. [17]

Better Sleep is Within Your Reach, Regardless of Your Age

While sleep can be challenging for older adults, there is plenty you can do to tip the sleeping scales in your favor!

You can start by choosing just one or two of the tips from this post – perhaps the easiest ones (like a weighted blanket, or lowering your thermostat), and build from there until you're sleeping soundly and waking up fully refreshed, consistently and predictably.

References

[1] 5 Sleep Mistakes Older Adults Should Avoid

[2] https://www.nymc.edu/media/schools-and-colleges/nymc/pdf/student-life/MarchisSleepAwarenessMonth.pdf

[3] National Institute on Aging - A Good Night's Sleep.

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/being-awake-better/202206/rem-vs-deep-the-most-important-type-sleep

[5] https://www.healthline.com/health-news/its-not-just-for-kids-even-adults-appear-to-benefit-from-a-regular-bedtime

[6] SoClean Sleep Talk - Everything you need to know about sleep hygiene

[7] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment

[8] https://www.prevention.com/health/a29824369/how-often-should-you-wash-your-sheets/

[9] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726

[10] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/mindfulness

[11] https://mindworks.org/blog/best-guided-meditations-beginners/

[12] https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2022/march/weighted-blankets

[13] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-ideal-sleeping-temperature-for-my-bedroom/

[14] https://gut.bmj.com/content/71/Suppl_2/A65.1

[15] https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/news/20031013/are-gerd-sleep-apnea-related

[16] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-health-benefits-of-probiotics#mental-health-conditions

[17] Gut Lung Therapy, by For the Biome