We’re in the midst of a sleep revolution.
That may sound like a marketing gimmick for the latest foam mattress that comes in a crazy-small box, but it’s not. In the last few years, science has produced some pretty amazing revelations about how sleep can improve our health. Researchers have found that good sleep habits can keep you slim, improve your mental state and lower the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer, potentially adding years to your life.
So what are good sleep habits, exactly? Because bad sleep tends to stick in our minds longer than good sleep, we rounded up the unhealthy sleep patterns that are easy to lapse into as we age. We consulted top doctors and sleep experts to compile this list of 15 ways you’re probably sleeping wrong after age 40, along with recommendations on how you can get your best night’s rest.
You Think Sleep Issues Are Part of Normal Aging
You might remember your parents or grandparents rising early and talking about “needing less sleep” as they got older. And you might find yourself having trouble sleeping after age 40. But it’s a misconception that we should sleep less as we get older. In fact, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, at age 40 or 60, you need the same amount of sleep as you did in college. Read on to find out how much that should be.
Recommendation: Sleep is not a waste of time or something you grow out of; it can extend your life. You can get too little (or too much). Stick to the recommendations below.
You’re Getting Less Than Seven Hours
All of us, young and old, are sleeping less and less — and it’s bad news at any age. According to Gallup, the average American sleeps 6.8 hours nightly, and 40 percent of us sleep less than six hours a night. The problem? Adults, even older adults, need seven to nine hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Getting less shut-eye has been associated with an increased risk of depression, weight gain, even car accidents.
Recommendation: Read on to see how much sleep you should be getting nightly.
You’re Staring At Screens An Hour (Or Less) Before Bed
Cell phones, TVs and computers emit a blue light that can keep you awake. It disturbs your natural circadian rhythm, which tells you it’s time to turn in. Avert your eyes from TV, phones, computers and tablets at least 60 minutes before lights-out. “For the best night’s sleep, consider pretending that you live in an earlier time,” advises the National Sleep Foundation. “Wind down by reading a (paper) book, writing in a journal, or chatting with your partner.”
Recommendation: If you feel like you can’t miss your favorite late-night shows, record them and watch them the next day — with enough time to power down an hour before bed.
You Had Late-Night Cocktails
Alcohol might seem like an effective way to ease into Z’s, but consuming alcoholic beverages too close to bed actually hinders rest. Researchers have found that alcohol shortens deep (REM) sleep, which makes sleep less restorative.
Recommendation: Stick to one to two drinks nightly, and don’t use booze as a sleep aid — it’s counterproductive and can lead to dependence.
You’re Snoring (And Not Doing Anything About It)
Loud snoring isn’t just a pain for anyone who can hear you. It can be the sign of a serious health problem: Namely, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). During OSA, breathing can stop for as long a minute, before your brain wakes you up to resume breathing. These pauses in breathing can happen many times a night. Sound scary? It is: OSA has been associated with high blood pressure and other health problems. It’s also exhausting.
Recommendation: If you suspect you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor.
You’re Using Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills are entrenched in pop culture, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you. You shouldn’t need to rely on meds to get to sleep, even over-the-counter drugs. Some studies have linked the use of hypnotic (sleep-inducing) drugs to an increased risk of cancer and death. Researchers aren’t sure why that may be, but why risk it?
Recommendation: There are many strategies you can follow before requesting a prescription, including meditation, relaxation and avoiding screens. Talk to your doctor.
Your Afternoon Nap Is Too Late
Few things feel better than an afternoon nap. Just don’t doze too long — anything over 25 minutes or so will put you into a deeper sleep and make it harder to wake up. Snooze too late in the day — say, anytime after 5pm — and it may be harder for you to hit the hay later.
Recommendation: If you’re having chronic insomnia, try not to nap during the day at all.
You’re Going To Sleep On A Full Stomach
Eating a full meal too close to bedtime increases your risk of acid reflex and indigestion, which can lead to snoring or insomnia.
Recommendation: Eat dinner at least three hours before bed. If you need a late-night snack, stick to something light. Like rice cereal, bananas and milk — see why Eat This, Not That! says that’s the perfect bedtime food.
You Haven’t Changed Your Pillow
Your pillow should be washed every six months and replaced every year or two, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The reason to wash: Dust mites. These microscopic critters (and their waste) can worsen allergies and asthma, impairing breathing and therefore your sleep. The reason to replace: You deserve proper support. Feathers go flat, and foam degrades with age. More than half of us experience neck pain as we get older, which could be alleviated by purchasing a pillow that properly cradles your head and neck.
Recommendation: Whether they’re filled with foam, feathers or down, pillows can be washed in a regular washing machine. Just wash them in a separate load and make sure they dry completely in a dryer, so they don’t develop mold. Toss some tennis balls in the dryer to help that process.
You’re Not Washing Your Sheets Enough
We don’t mean to nag, but dust mites can also nestle in your bedding. That doesn’t mean you need to throw them out; some sheets and pillowcases can last decades, depending on their quality.
Recommendation: Experts recommend washing your sheets at least every two weeks, weekly if you suffer from allergies, asthma or eczema. To prevent dust mites from inhabiting your mattress, use a protective cover. Wash it every two months.
You’re Sleeping With A Pet
Sorry to break this to you: If you share the bed with a cat or dog and you’re suffering from poor sleep or daytime tiredness, it might be because Man’s Best Friend is causing your worst nightmares. According to a study by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, 53 percent of people who sleep with their pets have disturbed rest and abnormal sleep patterns, because of their four-legged friend’s restless behavior (or the real estate they take up).
Recommendation: It might be time for Cujo to transition to a nice bedside basket.
You’re Not Getting Enough Exercise
Exercise doesn’t just lead to a trimmer waistline: Study after study has shown that it can improve your sleep, helping you fall asleep more quickly and have better quality rest. Researchers don’t know exactly why, just that it works. (And the science is clear that you shouldn’t exercise intensely one to two hours before bed; you need to give the endorphins time to wash out of your system.)
Recommendation: Getting as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to lead to better shut-eye, warding off sleep-inhibiting conditions like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome (both of which get more common as we age).
You Toss And Turn
Experts recommend that if you’re having trouble getting to sleep, get out of bed after 20 minutes.
Recommendation: Do a calm activity, like reading a (paper) book or listening to music until you feel sleepy. Avoid screens.
You’re Sleeping On Your Stomach
Many stomach sleepers experience pain because that position twists the body out of alignment. You have to sleep with your head turned to the side, which makes it hard to breathe and puts strain on your back and spine, raising your risk for neck problems or a herniated disk.
Recommendation: Since neck and back problems increase as we age, you might want to avoid this position. If stomach sleeping is your thing, sleep with a thin pillow (or no pillow) and place a pillow under your pelvis to take the strain off your spine.
You’re Sleeping Too Much
Sleep is vital for health as we age, but there can be too much of a good thing. Oversleeping has been correlated with an increased risk of dementia.
Recommendation: Stick to nine hours, max, and wake up at the same time every day.