Insomnia affects more than half of people over 65 and can have far-reaching health consequences like increased risk of hypertension. Difficulty falling asleep, waking too early or not feeling refreshed after a night’s sleep are signs that you may have insomnia.
Other signs include headaches, irritability, lack of energy, excessive daytime sleepiness, attention deficit and memory impairment.
Slow wave sleep (commonly referred to as deep sleep) decreases as we age and disruptions to quality deep sleep can have detrimental effects on our memory. Common conditions that cause middle-of-the-night insomnia include asthma, heart burn and arthritis. Adding to that, many over-the-counter and prescription medications have sleep-related side effects.
The benefits of sleeping well as you age are invaluable. To help you fully reap those benefits, here are seven simple healthy sleep habits.
7 Natural Remedies for Insomnia
1. Try acupuncture for insomnia.
In evaluating randomized controlled trials on acupuncture for insomnia, researchers found acupuncture to be an effective treatment. In fact, when it came to sleep duration, acupuncture was superior to medications, with total sleep duration increasing more than three hours. In a separate study on women experiencing menopause-related sleep disruptions, acupuncture was also associated with improved sleep. While more research is needed to understand specifically how acupuncture helps improve sleep, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that it may be because acupuncture helps increase relaxation and reduce anxiety, helping you fall asleep easier.
2. Drink herbal tea or cherry juice for insomnia before bedtime.
Chamomile and valerian are widely used as natural remedies to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders because of their sedative properties. Brew and drink these herbs right before bed. Studies also show that tart cherry juice can help improve sleep quality. Cherry juice contains melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep and wake cycle, commonly known as your circadian rhythm.
3. Practice yoga and meditation.
Practicing yoga daily will not only improve the length and quality of your sleep, but it will also reduce stress and anxiety and boost your general well-being. Mindfulness meditation, which focuses on breathing and awareness of the moment, can also help older adults combat insomnia — even chronic cases. Try meditating for about 20 minutes daily.
4. Exercise regularly.
It’s recommended that older adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week in addition to two 30-minute-long strength training sessions. Research has shown that those who follow these physical activity guidelines experience improved sleep quality and feel more alert during the day.
Dr. Rosanne Leipzig, professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine notes that “when you exercise, especially outdoors, you perspire and decrease your body temperature. One of the signals to your body to sleep is a decreased body temperature, so if you exercise later in the day, do it at least three hours before to going to bed.” The three hour leeway gives your body a chance to wind down and prepare for sleep.
5. Don’t use electronic devices before bedtime.
Spending time on your phone, laptop or other electronic devices right before bed can negatively impact your sleep. The blue light emitted by all devices suppresses the production of melatonin. Power off your devices or keep them away from your bed to avoid being woken by late-night phone calls or notifications.
6. Set a schedule.
Take it one step further by adopting a bedtime routine. “Having regular times to go to sleep and get up helps train your inner biological clock,” says Dr. Leipzig. Listening to calming music, reading a book or taking a long warm bath before bed will also help you relax and get ready for sleep.
7. Fall asleep to pink noise.
Pink noise is best described as the sound of rain falling or leaves rustling in the wind. It’s a gentle and soothing sound where each octave has the same energy and a consistent frequency. One study found that when pink noise was synced with the brain waves of older adults, pink noise not only enhanced the quality of sleep but it also helped improve memory. Try falling asleep to the soothing sounds of rain by downloading a pink noise track from Apple iTunes.