Oh what a difference a great night’s sleep makes. But many people, especially as we age, find it isn’t easy to fall asleep or stay asleep. Did you know it’s normal not to have seven nights a week of great sleep? Let me repeat that. It’s normal! But there are things we can do to get the best sleep possible.

Sleep is important for everyone. How much sleep do you need? Adults at any age need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep leaves you tired, and that means:

  • Your memory is not as sharp
  • Your balance is not as good
  • Your energy is lower
  • You’re less likely to handle stress

Sleep problems in older people

It’s common to start having changes in your sleep in your 50s and 60s. People in their 70s often have more things causing poor sleep. Here’s what may be causing you to wake up or toss and turn:

  1. Beginning at age 55, deep sleep starts to decline.
  2. Men and women both have the need to urinate more frequently.
  3. Medical conditions can be a challenge at night. For example, you have pain in your joints from arthritis or you can’t breathe well from emphysema. Dementia patients may be more confused at night and less able to relax.
  4. Medications can have sleep side effects too. Blood pressure drugs cause more urination. Depression drugs can give you more energy. Check with your doctor if this is happening to you. It’s possible you can make changes, like taking your medicine at a different time of day, changing doses, or switching to a different drug that may not have sleep side effects.

Brief moments of wakefulness are OK, but long periods can lead to a sleep disorder called insomnia. Insomnia means you can’t fall asleep when you first go to bed or you wake up and can’t get back to sleep in the middle of the night. If you’re still awake after 10 minutes, get out of bed and walk around your house for a short time. Practice relaxation or meditation exercises. Then go back through the steps of going to bed. Our brains follow these signals, and hopefully you’ll fall back to sleep quickly.

Avoid sleeping pills and go for natural remedies

Older people should avoid prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills. These medicines cause heavy drowsiness. They can lead to confusion, balance problems and falls, constipation, and tiredness that lasts into the next day.

A relaxing bedtime routine is important. A healthy night of sleep can happen if you start preparing long before it’s time to turn in and turn out the light for the night.

Make mindful decisions during the day to get great sleep at night. It isn’t hard to do, and it doesn’t take a lot of time either. Make small lifestyle changes that can lead to a more restful you. Try these natural sleep remedies from morning to night.

Tips to help me sleep better

In the morning

  • Wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends. A regular sleep cycle puts you to sleep faster at night.
  • Keep your sleep space clean. A neat bed with clean sheets and uncluttered sleep space can improve your sleep.
  • Eat more in the morning and less at night. Start your day off with healthy fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Eat smaller meals before going to bed.
  • Get moving in the morning. Exercise right after your alarm goes off to help you wake up and be more alert.

In the afternoon and early evening

  • Skip the caffeine and alcohol. Try limiting caffeine to 200 mg a day; that’s about two cups of coffee. Drink it before noon, and choose de-caffeinated drinks the rest of the day. Alcohol affects sleep, so it’s best not to have any past 3 p.m.
  • Limit napping. A quick daytime snooze is OK if you’re sleeping well at night. But if you’re napping more than 40 minutes during the day and can’t sleep at night, then it’s time to stop the naps.
  • Drink plenty of water. Stay hydrated by drinking about eight glasses of water throughout the day. Dehydration can make you weak and disrupt your night. Limit how much you drink after dinner to lessen the need to urinate.
  • Exercise now to deepen sleep. If you enjoy intense exercise like weightlifting, speed walking, running or high-intensity sports, get it done at least four hours before bed. Exercises that boost body temperature make it tough to sleep.
  • Get natural daylight. Our bodies need to know the difference between night and day. When possible, spend your daytime hours outdoors and in the sun. A dark bedroom can help your brain tell your body it’s time to sleep. But don’t make it too dark – make sure you have a night light to help you get around and avoid falls.

A few hours before bed

  • Turn down your thermostat. You‘ll likely sleep better at night if the temperature in your bedroom is slightly lower than the temperature you had during the day. On average, 68 to 72 degrees can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Shut down electronics. The blue light from electronic screens mimics daylight and tells you to stay awake. Turn off your television and put away your devices about two hours before bedtime.
  • Clear your mind. This is the time to relax and not think about things that are stressful or make you worry.

Get help from a doctor or sleep specialist

If you’re having problems sleeping, talk to your doctor. They’ll help decide if you could benefit from seeing a sleep specialist or a mental health professional. Medicare Part B has coverage for outpatient mental health services, doctor and specialist office visits. Medicare plans from private companies usually have extra coverage for these types of health care.