Your immune system works better when you give yourself some downtime. That’s probably why you get tired when you don’t feel well. Sleep also helps your body respond better to vaccines and eases inflammation.
So how much do you need? And how can you tell if it’s “good” sleep?
Adults need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of shut-eye each night. But it’s natural for your sleep habits to change as you age. You might get up earlier or sleep a little less. That’s not something you should worry about if you’re not tired during the day.
In general, older people have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Experts aren’t sure why, but they do know you tend to spend less time in deep sleep as you age.
Signs you’re not sleeping well include:
- Daytime sleepiness or naps
- Concentration or mood problems
- Memory trouble
- More infections
Here are some tips on how to get more ZZZs:
Set a routine. Try to get up at the same time every day, even if you went to bed late the night before. Create habits when you go to bed -- brush your teeth, wash your face, put on pajamas -- to send a signal that it’s time for sleep.
Don’t nap. You’ll have more trouble falling asleep at night if you doze off during the day.
Skip your afternoon coffee. Limit or avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
Avoid alcohol before bed. A drink might help you fall asleep, but alcohol makes it harder to get restful sleep.
Don't sweat too late. Exercise at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed. That way, your body has time to cool off before bed.
Ditch screens an hour before bed. The blue light from your TV, smartphone, or laptop can confuse your brain. It sends a signal that it’s still daytime. That curbs the release of melatonin, a chemical that tells your body it’s time to sleep. And you already make less melatonin as you age.
Try different lightbulbs. Light with a reddish tint is better for sleep. Dimmer lightbulbs might also help.
Use your bedroom for sleep. Try not to work or watch TV in bed.
Go to bed when you’re tired. If you’re still awake 20 minutes after you shut your eyes, get up. Do something relaxing -- read a book, meditate -- until you’re sleepy.
Talk to your doctor if you have good sleep habits, but you still can’t snooze. You might need to treat a hidden health problem. Some conditions that might affect your sleep include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Restless legs syndrome
- Depression or anxiety
- Heart disease
- A pain condition, like arthritis
- Neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s
Some drugs can cause sleep problems, too. Ask your doctor if you need to change your medicine.
If none of that helps, you might need to:
- See a sleep specialist
- Take short-term sleep medicine
- Try cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia