What You Can Learn From The Best Sleeper In America

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Larry is the best sleeper in America. He is 70 and happy. Be like Larry.

May is Better Sleep Month, and seniors should be celebrating.

According to a new survey by The Better Sleep Council, retired adults and the nation’s baby boomers are sleeping great. And the Silent Generation—people born between 1925 and 1945—are the best sleepers of all.

The report—“State of America’s Sleep”—found that older generations are among the best sleepers in America and boomers make up 36% of excellent sleepers.

In their study, researchers uncovered several personas–one of whom is Larry, a 70-something retiree, and apparently the best sleeper in America. According to the report:

“The best sleeper in America is Larry, a 70-something retiree. Larry and his wife are Empty Nesters, living in an upscale neighborhood in the suburbs in the Midwest. Larry almost always gets 7-8 hours of sleep and feels rested in the morning. He is relatively pain-free when he wakes up – especially for someone his age. Larry takes sleep very seriously.”

Here are some tips from Larry:

  • He rarely has a bedtime snack.
  • He avoids caffeine entirely.
  • His bedtime routine includes reading – but no social media or email. (Because of this Larry’s usually asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow, and he rarely wakes up in the night.)
  • He feels his life is fulfilling.
  • He has a great relationship with his wife and the two of them have several close friends.
  • He has several interests and hobbies he enjoys, including attending plays and concerts.
  • He watches news on TV and is concerned about terrorism and immigration. However, it doesn’t affect his sleep.
  • He does some light exercising, but nothing too strenuous.

In fact, nothing in Larry’s life is very strenuous. He lives a relatively stress-free life.

Ellen Wermter, board-certified family nurse practitioner and Better Sleep Council spokesperson, said researchers found that having less stress and taking advantage of the relaxation they’ve earned with good choices makes seniors among the best sleepers in America.

“Many older adults have more flexibility with their time, which if used correctly, may produce more satisfying sleep,” Wermter said. “Older adults are more likely to be retired from work, which typically means less stress. It also means no alarm clock to make sure you’re at work on time. This allows for individuals to sleep according to their chronotype instead of being forced to follow the circadian rhythm of societal expectations. Routine is still important, though. Sometimes, with newfound flexibility older adults flounder in regards to sleep schedule, and the inconsistency can actually make sleep worse overall.”

Chronotype sounds fancy, but it’s really just a term for whether you’re a morning person, night person or something in between.

In zoology, chronotype refers to the time (chrono) of the sleep and regular activities of an animal. For example, nocturnal animals are active at night, whereas humans are diurnal. They are active during the day, and they sleep at night.

According to Tuck.com, a sleep health and news information site, “It’s important to note that your chronotype refers to more than just your rising and bedtimes. It’s your body’s natural ‘timeline’ for the various primal activities you would do during the day, such as eating, sleeping and having sex. If you’re a night owl, you now have an answer for why you feel so ‘out of whack’ with the rest of society.”

Self-proclaimed “Sleep Doctor” and clinical psychologist, Michael Breus, Ph.D., paired the four animal chronotypes to what he says are their human counterparts in his book, “The Power of When,” and explained the ideal daily routine for each. Breus contends there’s more than good sleep at stake. He says you can be happier overall and more productive when you know your personal chronotype and the schedule that goes along with it. For instance, you’ll know better when to have that first cup of coffee, when to exercise and when to turn off the television. (You can take the quiz on Breus’ website.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked insufficient sleep with many chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression—that threaten the nation’s health. And The Better Sleep Council says the hidden costs of missing sleep include depression, unattractiveness, skin aging, weight gain and marital dissatisfaction. Further, they say their research has shown that 61% of consumers crave sleep more than sex.

According to Tuck.com, it’s a common belief (and a misconception) that seniors need less sleep as they age. The federal government’s Healthy People initiative says seniors need just as much sleep as the rest of adults, which is 7 to 9 hours a night.

Tuck reports that as people age, their “sleep architecture changes, which causes us to have trouble staying asleep for that same amount of time. And this insomnia, and the resulting exhaustion, can impact seniors’ health.”

“Fortunately, there is much seniors can do to enjoy better sleep safely, from lifestyle changes to sleep products,” Tuck reports.

Here are 15 of their recommendations:

  1. Reduce stress levels.

If a senior’s insomnia is caused by underlying stress, grief, worry—even worry about their insomnia itself—psychotherapy can help.

Seniors can also engage in other activities to reduce their stress, such as yoga, meditation, or visualization. They might keep a worry journal. Before bed, they can write their worries into the journal to release them from their mind and onto the page.

  1. Follow a consistent sleep schedule.

Train the mind and body to follow a sleep schedule, by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Seniors should follow this schedule religiously, even on weekends.

  1. Eat and drink well during the day.

Our diet impacts the quality of our sleep. Seniors should avoid fatty and sugary foods, and instead make sure their meals are filled with healthy, sleep-promoting ingredients.

Heavy meals should be avoided later in the day, especially if a senior has acid reflux. These can cause digestive upset that make it harder to fall asleep.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine past the afternoon. Both of these substances disrupt sleep. Caffeine keeps us up past bedtime, while alcohol wakes us up too early once your body digests it.

  1. Exercise during the day.

Exercise physically tires the body, and it keeps seniors in good physical health. Seniors should aim to exercise every day. If possible, pair the exercise with an outdoor activity. The natural sunlight receive will help reinforce the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, so they’re more prone to sleep when it gets dark out.

  1. Get natural sunlight.

Besides exercise, getting natural sunlight in the morning helps energize the body and mind, resetting the circadian rhythms. Even when not outdoors, have curtains pulled back to let the sunshine in.

Seniors with advanced sleep phase syndrome can spend more time getting natural sunlight in the afternoon to help them stay awake for longer.

  1. Limit daytime napping.

If you nap during the day, you’re likely to have a tougher time falling asleep at night. Seniors should avoid napping as much as possible.

If they are absolutely fatigued, limit the nap to 20 minutes. This is short enough to keep you from entering deep sleep, so when you wake up you’ll feel refreshed instead of even more tired.

  1. Devote the bedroom to sleep and sex only.

As much as possible, avoid doing anything in the bedroom besides sleep and intimate activity. You want your brain to view it solely as a place of restfulness, not a place where you work on hobbies, talk on the phone, or entertain loved ones.

If you are caring for a senior who stays in a hospital bed for much of the day, see what you can do to help their brain make this mental shift. Perhaps you move the hospital bed to another room—or the opposite side of the room—during the day, or you use curtains at night to help them sleep.

  1. Minimize the fall risk in the bedroom.

Remove rugs, clutter, and power cords that might cause seniors to trip, and install a motion-activated night light to guide their way to the bathroom if they wake up in the middle of the night. Kennel or crate all pets at night, or have them sleep outside of the bedroom.

If a senior has RLS or PLMD, invest in guard rails for the bed or get a low-profile bed frame with floor pads to minimize injury should they fall out of bed.

If they have Alzheimer’s, caregivers should remove objects form the floor, and gate any areas to bar access to areas where the senior could hurt themselves, such as over the stairs.

  1. Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.

The ideal sleeping environment is one that’s as cave like as possible. Set the bedroom thermostat to somewhere in the mid-60s degrees Fahrenheit, and remove ticking clocks or anything noisy.

Turn off all the lights and close the blinds or curtains. In total darkness, there’s less for a restless mind to worry about. Darkness also communicates to the brain that it’s time to sleep.

  1. Follow a bedtime routine.

Develop a calming bedtime routine for seniors to follow in the 30 to 60 minutes before bed. All of the activities should be calming, such as reading a book, listening to quiet music, or knitting.

The serenity of the activities will calm the mind and body, while the routine will help the brain recognize that these activities, performed in this order at night, are a signal that sleep should follow shortly.

  1. Take a warm bath or shower at night.

If it’s safe for the senior to get in and out of the tub, they might add a warm bath to the bedtime routine.

The drop in body temperature we experience as the warm water evaporates from our skin helps facilitate the body’s natural thermoregulation process. Our body core temperature naturally cools slightly in the evening, preparing us for sleep.

  1. Avoid electronics in the evening.

The blue light in electronics is especially disruptive to our brains when we’re trying to fall asleep. Our brains perceive this light as sunlight, so they get tricked into thinking it’s daytime and try to keep us up and alert instead of sleepy.

Seniors should turn off all electronics at least 2 hours before bedtime. If electronics can’t be avoided, turn on the red-light filter for smartphones and e-readers, or invest in blue-light blocking glasses to watch TV.

  1. Avoid fluids late at night.

Nighttime bathroom trips are a major source of nighttime awakenings for seniors. To avoid being woken up by their bladder, seniors should limit the amount of fluids they drink at night, and go to the restroom right before bed.

  1. Remain calm during nighttime awakenings.

Unfortunately, nighttime awakenings are to be expected on at least an occasional basis, even if one implements all of these tips.

If seniors wake up during the night, try to fall back asleep using these tips. If it takes longer than 20 minutes, they should get up and go into another room, where they can repeat some of the activities from their bedtime routine until they get tired again.

  1. Talk to a doctor.

If, after implementing these behavioral tips, a senior is still experiencing significant sleep problems, it could be due to an underlying disorder or a side effect of their medication.

Tell the doctor about the sleep issues they’re experiencing, and the efforts they’ve taken to address them. The doctor may be able to evaluate their medication and find a suitable alternative with fewer, sleep-related side effects.

Some 2,000 surveys were fielded by researchers between April 10-18, 2019, to complete the “Worst Sleepers and Best Sleepers Addendum” to the “State of America’s Sleep.” The surveys were taken by a representative sample of U.S. adults 18 and over. The sample was provided by Dynata, a global first-party data and data services provider.

Mary Helen Rogers, vice president of marketing and communications for the Better Sleep Council (BSC) said the council’s research also found that the younger generation (adult Gen Z’s 18 to 22 years old) represent 10% of poor adult sleepers and 5% of excellent adult sleepers. “The younger generation is classified in the worst sleeper data in our findings,” she said.

Other notable findings include:

  • Retired adults make up 28% of excellent sleepers, compared to 16% of poor sleepers.
  • Adults with stressful work environments who agree (somewhat or completely) that they are under pressure at work, represent 44% of poor sleepers.
  • The Silent Generation—people born between 1925 and 1945—is more than twice as likely to be excellent than poor sleepers.

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