It seems that getting enough rest throughout the year is a challenge for everyone. But as we age, it becomes even more important. We also seem to run ourselves down through the holidays, shopping, visiting, staying out or up later than usual.
We also seem to think that we can “catch up” on sleep or rest later, which isn’t always accurate. What can we do (even during the holidays) to be sure that we’re getting enough rest?
How much rest do older Americans need?
It’s a widely believed myth that seniors need less sleep and rest. There have been countless studies on sleep/rest needs amongst older people and they are evenly in disagreement. For each study that indicates it might be possible for seniors to need less sleep, there are numerous others that tell us that seniors need the same amount of sleep as people in their 20s and 30s.
One of the reasons this may have entered into popular belief is that seniors may sleep less throughout the night. As we age, our sleep patterns change (read 3 Sleep Challenges in Older Adults for more in-depth information) and we may sleep less at night. But this has more to do with our sleep patterns, circadian rhythms than anything else. It also doesn’t take into account napping.
And just because we may sleep less at night doesn’t mean we need less sleep. While the hours may vary from night to night, HealthInAging.org indicates, “The National Sleep Foundation says yes—to all of those questions. In an expert panel convened by the Foundation, sleep experts and other specialists reviewed extensive research on sleep needs by age groups, including older adults. Their February 2015 report reflects the most up-to-date recommendations on sleep needs. The panel found that while sleep patterns change with aging, adults 65-years-old and older still need between 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, and ideally over a continuous period of time.”
Can rest be “caught up”?
We often say we’ll take a nap and “catch up” on our rest. But can that be done? It actually isn’t the right question to be asking. When we look at missed sleep, we actually need to be addressing the time frame (duration) of missed sleep and the long and short term health risks associated with missed sleep and rest.
Can we take a nap today and catch up the sleep we missed last night? Studies indicate yes. But if we’ve been chronically sleep deprived for weeks or months, then the answer becomes less clear.
In a study published in 2018, it was found that catching up on sleep on the weekends was not enough to counter long term effects of ongoing sleep loss.
Tips to get the right amount of rest (even during the holidays)
Do your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Keeping a standard sleep schedule will help your body know when it is time to rest and when it’s time to be awake. Having a bedtime routine and doing your best to stick to the same schedule as much as possible will help your body to relax and rest on a regular basis.
Take a midday nap. Naps are fine and best used as closely to the sleep loss as possible. If you didn’t sleep well last night, have a nap! But don’t expect naps to rescue you from 2 weeks of holiday insomnia.
And be sure you don’t nap later in the afternoon. Afternoon naps will likely prevent you from sleeping well at bedtime.
Watch the evening snacks. This one can be tricky during the holidays, but try not to load up on carbs and sugars in the evening. They can keep you awake at night and if it’s more than just a small, light snack, your body will; be forced to work harder to break down the food. This is important because as we sleep, our body uses resources to heal and repair damage done throughout the day. If you have to digest a meal during your sleep, there is less energy in your body available for this critical function.
Alcohol in moderation (and not right before bed). Alcohol may make us feel sleepy, but actually interferes with the processes of getting a good sleep. Drink in moderation and earlier in the evening to be sure you can rest well at night.
Keep exercising. For many of us, the holidays throws us off our exercise routine. When possible, try to stay the course by getting daily walks (outdoor or indoor) of at least 20 minutes. Keeping your exercise routine (and not working out right before bed) will help you to be the right amount of tired at night (which invariably helps you get a proper rest).
Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves! Making and sticking with an agreement with yourself that you will take care of yourself is one of the best gifts you can give to the people who love you, any time of the year.
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