How to get a good night’s sleep
We all know what it feels like to toss and turn relentlessly as the clock ticks away, dozing off fitfully before wakefulness returns for revenge.
And it gets worse as we get older. According to sleep experts 40 per cent of over-50s and half of over-65s suffer from sleeplessness at least three times a week.
It’s not fair. During much of our lives, we never seem to have enough time for a decent night’s sleep. But later, when life starts to move at a more leisurely pace, sleeping can start to become hard work.
But we do tend to sleep less deeply. “Our sleep architecture changes,” says Dr Banjeree. “This is related to a part of sleep called Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) that reduces as we get older.”
It’s also the case that we gradually become more susceptible to those physical problems that keep us awake. Dr Banejee explains: “As we get older there’s an increasing incidence of disrupted sleep due to other health issues such as mechanical back pain, urinary symptoms, cardiac disease, obstructive sleep apnea and the side-effects of multiple medications.”
We can’t change the natural order of things. But we can reduce those little environmental triggers that we never had to think about when we were younger, but now wake us during the night.
The temperature, for example; we all like to be cosy in bed, but you can become just too warm as the hours drift on. That’s because we’re always burning calories, which generates heat. An open window or a lighter quilt can help.
So too can a soft bed and a decent pillow. We all remember the days where we could have slept on a washing line for eight hours solid. But to master the art of light sleeping we need to make sure everything is just perfect.
Sleep and alcohol
We all know that caffeine is a powerful stimulant and should be avoided in the evening. But the short term sedative effect of alcohol can seduce us into believing that insomnia can be beaten by a few late-night glasses of wine or a couple beers.
It might help you to nod off, but in the second half of the night that alcohol in your bloodstream will disrupt your “sleep architecture” — the balance between deep short wave sleep and shallower Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep (when most dreams occur), leaving you groggy the next day.
An afternoon siesta is seen as one of the perks of retirement. But you may end up with hefty bill at the other end of the day. Forty winks grabbed in the afternoon might cost you 40,000 winks in the dead of night.
Physical and mental activity during the daytime combined with relaxation at bedtime is perhaps the best strategy. Go to bed not to watch TV, surf the web on your laptop, read the latest blockbuster or phone your friends. Go to bed to sleep (and to make love).
But sometimes the problems run deeper. “If insomnia causes you daytime problems, such as excessive sleepiness and fatigue, you should consult a GP and ask to be referred to a sleep specialist,” advises Dr Banjeree.