It’s more than a myth that the ability to sleep long and deep decreases with age. Our get up-and-go seems to have gone. Yet, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Indeed, sleep is food for the brain and we need it in order to be fully alert, dynamic and at our A-game all day long.
The biggest sleep thief in middle age is stress. Whatever we can do to reduce tension in our lives will enable us to sleep better. By following these suggestions you can decrease daytime drowsiness, reduce irritability, anxiety and depression, and lower your risk of hypertension (heart attacks and strokes), type II diabetes, periodontal disease, obesity and cancer.
You can also improve your reaction time, mood and cognitive performance. Healthy sleep will improve memory, creative and critical problem solving ability, feelings of general well being and health. In fact, quantity and quality of sleep is the best predictor we have of longevity. Here are some tips to improve daytime alertness and performance:
1. Determine your sleep requirement and meet it nightly. For most adults, it’s between 7.5 and 8.5 hours. You’ll know you have met your sleep requirement if you are wide-awake and energetic all day long.
2. Establish a regular sleep-wake schedule so that you’re going to sleep and getting up at the same time Monday through Monday, including the weekends.
3. Try to get one block of continuous sleep. If you experience fragmented sleep, make sure you cut out all daytime napping.
4. To avoid insomnia, here’s how to set the stage for the theatre of the night:
- Your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool (65-67 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Avoid any caffeine (including chocolate) after 2 pm.
- Avoid alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
- Get plenty of physical exercise. Even those who walk 30 minutes each day report significantly better sleep than those not exercising at all. And not only does exercise improve sleep, but good sleep will improve your athletic ability. Recent research has found that sleeping at least seven to eight hours each night results in better reaction times, improved hand-eye and hand-foot coordination, and increased speed for athletes of all levels.
- Keep mentally stimulated throughout the day.
5. Reduce stress by relaxation techniques, such as slow, deep breathing, yoga and meditation.
- Try to take a warm bath or hot shower just before bedtime.
- Avoid all electronics within an hour of bedtime. Watching TV, surfing the web or using an iPad within an hour of bed will delay sleep onset. All of these devices produce bright blue daylight spectrum light that will suppress the release of melatonin, which triggers sleep when you turn off the lights.
- Develop a regular bedtime routine. Reading non-work related material or writing in a journal before bed will help you ease into sleep.
- Listen to light classical music at low volume as you fall asleep to ease your mind and increase the length and depth of your sleep up to 35%.