If you don’t sleep like a baby any more, you’re not alone. As we age, our brains change, which affects how we sleep. While many changes are normal, scientists think that helping older people sleep better may one day help rejuvenate brain functions like concentration and memory.
“Sleep patterns change as we get older,” explains Dr. Julie Carrier, a scientist with the Centre for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine in Montreal. Many older adults go to bed and wake-up earlier, take more naps and sleep less at night. They also tend to wake up more often and sleep more lightly.
“We’ve all seen how a baby can sleep right through a Christmas party,” she says. “By the time we reach the age of 50, it’s just not possible.”
As we sleep, our brains get a chance to recharge. But gradually, our brains lose that capacity, which can affect our ability to learn and remember. Dr. Carrier and her colleagues are looking at ways to stimulate the brain to give older adults back the qualities of sleep they’ve lost.
“Some people think of it as searching for the Fountain of Youth,” she says, laughing. Her research is still in its early stages. In the meantime, if you’re tired of counting sheep, try these six tips for a better sleep:
- Cut back on smoking, as well as coffee and alcohol.
- Stay active and eat well, but don’t eat too much or exercise near bedtime.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark with a comfortable temperature.
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Try to avoid stress at bedtime.
- Don’t panic. Many changing sleep patterns are normal. But if you’re not sleeping well, talk to your doctor. Your insomnia might be caused by a medical condition.
The Centre for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, located within the University of Montreal, has several labs where researchers use advanced technology to explore different aspects of sleep. These include how chronic pain affects our sleep, why we sleepwalk, how sleep patterns change after a brain injury and the sensitivity of our brains to light.