March is National Bed Month in the UK. Yes, the whole month. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that we can all have a ‘bed-in’ for 31 days, although I’d be quite happy if it did; I’m stocked up with Kindle books that could keep me entertained for several weeks of taking it easy.
In fact, it is an awareness project from the Sleep Council to remind us all of the importance of getting top quality sleep. This is just as important for the over 50s as for any other age group and as many of us are aware, we are at an age when a night of blissful sleep is increasingly harder to come by. Roughly speaking, we need about seven to nine hours sleep at our age and, thankfully, The Sleep Council has a whole array of tips to help us get our full quota.
I headed over to The Sleep Council’s website and discovered six people representing a variety of sleep scenarios. Margaret, although a graphic image of a person, clearly seemed to represent the over 50 age group so I decided to ‘Meet Margaret’ and discover her story. To summarise it: “Margaret doesn’t have trouble falling asleep but wakes up early. Throughout the night she wakes up for a variety of reasons, including temperature and comfort. Her doctor has advised her that her sleep problems are due to her age and arthritis.”
Plus, she consumes caffeine after 5pm. Oops, that’s me as well, even if it is tea rather than coffee.
The solutions to Margaret’s sleep problems
Temperature fluctuation is something I certainly battle with. The expert solution is changing to a wool, alpaca, silk or bamboo duvet cover that are better able to regulate body temperature and ensuring that the room is at a constant temperature of between 16-18 degrees Celsius. She should also choose a mattress that temperature-regulating or breathable mattress. And, have a warm bath before bed, because that helps the body temperature to drop.
Changing routine is another aid. Caffeine should not be consumed after 3pm and a late afternoon walk is recommended. Long phone calls in the evening, especially just before bedtime, are another no-no and complex, gripping thrillers on TV should be changed to something light-hearted and funny. Somebody needs to talk to the TV schedulers then as the majority of crime dramas are on after 9pm. Knitting or doing a jigsaw are perfect pre-sleep activities. Now, I’m wondering just how the Sleep Council sees people over 50.
Breathe and relax!
Yoga breathing techniques help us to relax and the ‘4-7-8’ method is suggested. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds: you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and then release the breath slowly for eight seconds, and repeat as often as you wish.
Devising a sleep routine
The Sleep Council is able to devise a sleep routine based on a person’s natural waking up time. This is the time that dictates when you should go to bed, rather than the time you go to bed influencing when you wake up. In Margaret’s case study, they determined that she is naturally somebody who wakes early, say between 5.45 and 6am. I would say that I’m more of an 7.30 – 8am person and on the weekends I can easily sleep past 9am.
Anyway, because Margaret wakes at the crack of dawn, she needs to go to bed at around 10.30pm. To ensure she sleeps well she must have her evening meal before 8pm and her wind down routine needs to start at 9.30pm. This includes calming activities, a warm bath and the yoga breathing. If Margaret wakes during the night, she should repeat the yoga breathing technique. The Sleep Council says that it can take the body at least a month to adjust to a new routine and that anyone embarking on establishing a sleep routine should be prepared for things to get worse before they get better.
If you’d like to improve your sleep, which does after all have a huge impact on both our physical and mental health, The Sleep Council suggests that you begin by keeping a sleep diary to establish your patterns and they have kindly provided a sleep diary at their website for you to download. We tend to take the quality of our sleep for granted until it is disturbed – make March the month you sort out your bedroom environment and have an even better sleep.