The restorative powers of a good night’s sleep are often celebrated: got a tough decision to make? Do it after a good night’s sleep. Feeling angry about something? It’ll seem brighter in the morning. And yet, recent data shows that around one-third of Canadian adults aren’t getting enough sleep. Aside from the short-term damage this does to energy levels and overall mood, the long-term consequences are significant. Sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle; just as important as enjoying time outdoors regularly. Going without it can create physical and mental health issues, including memory loss and poor cognitive function. It’s therefore particularly important for later life that you establish good sleeping habits from now.
What happens when we sleep
We often think of sleep as a period of rest for our body to recover from the day’s exertions. As the National Sleep Foundation confirms, it’s certainly true that during sleep, the body has an opportunity for muscle repair, tissue growth and repair, and blood pressure is lowered. However, during sleep the brain is also highly active, making connections and even solving problems! If you’ve ever wondered what sleep does for your brain, the answer includes improving memory, cognitive function and even creativity. It’s therefore particularly important for seniors as an opportunity for the brain to lay down memories, keep alert during the daytime, and boost mental health to guard against boredom or depression. Getting enough sleep can also help to reduce stress levels as it lowers the amount of cortisol (the main hormone in chronic stress) in our bodies.
Better sleeping habits
So how can you adopt better sleeping habits from now? A little fresh air and exercise each day is a great place to start. The Heart and Stroke Foundation advises regular activity to improve health and sleep, in whatever format you can manage. Paying attention to your diet can also improve your sleep. Protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey and dairy products boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Magnesium is also a useful mineral for aiding better sleep; nuts and green leafy vegetables are good sources.
In terms of drinks, avoid caffeine during the evenings, and instead drink plenty of water. At a time when technology is increasingly affecting mental health, try to avoid screens for an hour before bedtime. Charge your phone in another room if possible, and adopt a more low-tech habit such as reading or meditating before you sleep. If you’re worried that you still aren’t able to sleep, talk to your health professional for more tips and advice.
It’s clear that a good night’s sleep holds the key to improved memory retention, alertness and all-round positive mental health. It can also play a part in guarding against diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. At the moment, however, most people aren’t all receiving the benefit of blissful sleep; it’s time to work on better bedtimes to enjoy the rewards well into your senior years.
By Jane Anthony, Freelance Author and Content Editor