The 40 Best Ways to Sleep Better After 40, According to Science
These science-backed tips will have you sleeping better in no time.
When you're in your 40s, it's all too easy to sacrifice sleep in favor of your likely overwhelming to-do list. Getting a good night of shut-eye doesn't tend to fit in with your daily attempt to balance your family life, your work life, and your personal life. But for the sake of your mental and physical well-being, the last thing you should be doing is skimping on sleep. As one 2017 analysis published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep explains, not getting enough sound sleep can impact your stress levels, alter your mood, and even increase your risk of heart disease. So, if you're ready to start taking your sleep more seriously, we've got you covered. Follow these 40 easy ways to sleep better after 40.
Let some air in.
If you've spent the past 40 years sleeping restlessly with your windows shut, you might want to consider propping a few open. In 2018, researchers from the Eindhoven University of Technology found that leaving either a door or a window open promotes air flow and reduces levels of carbon dioxide, a known sleep inhibitor.
Write a to-do list before you sleep.
When you think about ways to relax, the last thing that probably comes to mind is writing a to-do list. But, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, writing your to-dos down before bed can help you get to sleep faster. By getting all of your impending thoughts out at once, the thinking goes, you won't waste any time listlessly pondering your imminently busy day into the wee hours.
Blow some bubbles.
Who knew this childhood pastime could be the key to sleeping better as an adult? Sure, it might feel silly in the moment, but Rachel E. Salas, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins, swears by this method for falling asleep. As she explained in an interview with the school's Brain Science Institute, blowing bubbles has a relaxing effect, particularly "when the brain sees the bubble go off and disappear or pop … You visually see something kind of released out of you."
Maintain a regular routine.
If you don't have some semblance of a daily routine by the time you're 40, make an effort to outline a basic plan and stick to it every day. In a 2010 study published in the journal Sleep, researchers concluded that older adults who had stable and predictable routines took less time to fall asleep, had improved sleep quality, and slept more efficiently.
Turn down the thermostat.
Experience might indicate that heat begets sleep; we've all dozed off in a toasty boardroom or lecture hall, after all. However, since your body temperature drops a few degrees at the onset of sleep, you can help your body drift off to dreamland simply by lowering the temperature in your room. The ideal temperature? Between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The National Sleep Foundation.
Hop in the shower.
Another way to lower your body's core temperature (and fall asleep faster) is by taking a shower right before bed. Even if you bathe in warmer water, your core body temperature will decrease once you step out of the shower into the cool air and dry off.
Eat more fish.
It pays to stock up on salmon. In a 2017 study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that eating fish can promote better, more restful sleep. How? Fish contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to increase the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. If you can't stomach the flavor of fish, spring for some omega-3 capsules instead.
Use a weighted blanket.
There's a reason why weighted blankets are all the rage nowadays. As one significant 2006 study published in Occupational Therapy and Mental Health explains, these blankets promote better sleep by imitating the feeling babies experience while being swaddled.
And buy some blackout curtains.
As clinical psychologist Michael J. Breus, PhD, a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, notes on his website, the ideal sleep environment is one that's dark, as darkness triggers the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. However, while it's easy to control your own lamps, it's more difficult to turn off street lights and avoid the headlights of passing cars.
Thankfully, you can at least prevent these outdoor stimulants from making it into your bedroom via blackout curtains. These curtains are specially designed to block any and all light coming from outside. Say goodbye to bright lights and hello to uninterrupted sleep!
Limit your coffee intake.
In the morning, drinking a cup of coffee is a great way to start the day with a jolt of energy. At night, though, indulging in the bitter beverage is a bad idea—because when you finally do want to wind down, that coffee is going to make it especially difficult to do so.
In 2013, researchers from Wayne State College of Medicine compared the disruptiveness of consuming 400 mg of caffeine (which is what's in your typical 16-ounce coffee) on sleep at three different times: right before bedtime, three hours before bedtime, and six hours before bedtime. It turns out, even subjects who had their final cup of coffee six hours before going to sleep experienced sleep disturbances.
And avoid taking pain relievers with caffeine in them.
Coffee isn't the only substance that contains energizing caffeine. Some pain relievers—like Excedrin Migraine and Midol—pack it in their pills, too. So if you're taking something to banish pain before bed, make sure to read the label and avoid accidentally ingesting an invigorating dose of caffeine.
Get a white noise machine.
White noise machines can make falling asleep and staying asleep so much easier. In a notable 2005 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers split participants into two groups, those who sleep with white noise machines and those who don't, and then exposed them to recorded hospital sounds. Through analysis of the subjects’ brain waves, the researchers found that those who slept with white noise machines were hardly disturbed by the ICU sounds, while those who slept without one experienced frequent sleep arousals. So if you like your sleeping space to be quiet but not eerily so, a white noise machine is a great investment.
Spend some time in the dark before bed.
Be careful about how much time you spend sitting in bright rooms before going to sleep. One 2011 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that when subjects were exposed to light in the eight hours before bed, 99 percent of them saw a delayed release of melatonin, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
Don't sleep with your pet.
We know you love cuddling with Fido, but having your pup in bed isn't ideal when it comes to your sleep patterns. When researchers at the Mayo Clinic observed dog owners for five months in a 2017 study, they found that those who let their animals sleep in the bed with them woke up more often throughout the night. The good news? The same study found that pet owners got satisfactory sleep when their pets were in the bedroom, just not on the bed.
Go to the gym.
An easy way to simultaneously get in shape and ensure that you sleep better after 40 is by going to the gym more. One 2018 study published in the journal Sleep found that a person's activity levels were directly correlated to their sleep quality.
But avoid intense training before bed.
Generally speaking, what time you work out doesn't make a major difference when it comes to your well-being. However, if your main goal is to feel more rested and relaxed, there is one type of workout you should avoid doing too close to bedtime: vigorous training.
When researchers from the Institute of Human Movement Sciences and Sport at ETH Zurich analyzed data on how working out before bed affects sleeping patterns in 2018, they concluded that any type of exercise during which a person is unable to speak because they are so out of breath can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Meditation can have some serious sleep-inducing benefits. In one 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that subjects who participated in mindfulness-based practices experienced fewer sleep-related problems, fewer symptoms of insomnia, and were less tired.
Take a yoga class.
Even if you never did a single downward dog pose in your 20s and 30s, you should consider taking a few yoga classes in your 40s. In a 2012 survey conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, more than 55 percent of people who took yoga classes reported that they experienced improved sleep as a result of their practice.
Drink cherry juice before bed.
Tart cherry juice contains sleep-inducing chemicals like procyanidins and anthocyanins, so it could just be the key to tacking on some necessary minutes to your REM sleep cycle. In fact, a 2018 study in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that drinking cherry juice before bed helped older subjects add an average of 84 minutes to their sleep. Drink up!
Snack on foods like nuts and salmon jerky.
What do these foods have in common? They both contain the amino acid tryptophan, which has been shown to induce drowsiness, as a landmark 1982 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found.
Eat a banana.
You've heard time and again that eating before bed is a bad idea: It boosts your blood sugar, it makes you gain weight, it keeps you awake, and so on. But in reality, if you eat the right food—namely, a banana—a little snack before you hit the sack is totally fine. In 2017, researchers out of Airlangga University in Indonesia found that elderly folks who ate a banana or two before bed were able to fall asleep faster than those who didn't.
Limit your daytime naps to just 20 minutes.
Oversleeping during a nap can actually end up sabotaging your nightly slumber. According to the Mayo Clinic, long naps—that is to say, anything over 20 minutes—can mess with your nighttime sleep, especially if you frequently deal with insomnia or poor sleep quality.
Slip into some socks.
Wearing socks to bed is a surefire way to improve your sleep. According to one oft-cited 1999 study published in the journal Nature, "the degree of dilation of blood vessels in the skin of the hands and feet … is the best physiological predictor for the rapid onset of sleep." To put that in layman's terms: The warmer your feet are, the faster you'll fall asleep.
Swap your mattress.
How long have you had your mattress? If you haven't replaced it since you were in your early 30s, you might want to consider getting a new one stat.
According to the sleep professionals at Sleep Help, you should swap your mattress out every seven to ten years. After about a decade, the average mattress is saggy and worn out, so sleeping on it will leave you uncomfortable, restless, and in pain.
Put on some soothing tunes.
Whether it's some coffee shop jazz or a playlist of rainy day acoustic jams, slow-paced music that clocks in at 80 beats per minute or less can help soothe the mind and lull you to sleep. One significant 2004 study published in Issues and Innovations in Nursing Practice had older adults listen to 45 minutes of "sedative music tapes" before bed for three weeks and found that this intervention resulted in better sleep quality, longer sleep duration, fewer sleep disturbances, and less time spent falling asleep.
Stretch it out before you go to sleep.
The older you get, the more important stretching becomes. Our bodies tend to tense up and tighten as we age, so by doing a few stretches before going to sleep, you can avoid waking up in pain in the middle of the night. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Physiotherapy, Dutch researchers had older adults partake in calf and hamstring stretches every night before bed for five weeks, and found that participants experienced fewer leg cramps and therefore fewer sleep disturbances.
Express your gratitude.
It pays to be positive, especially if you're trying to sleep better. For a 2015 study published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice, a team of researchers compared heart failure patients' gratitude levels. They found that those who practiced gratitude slept better and were less tired throughout the day.
Fill your room with the scent of lavender.
Whether you prefer candles or a diffuser, make sure you're filling your room with the sweet scent of lavender right around bedtime. In an oft-cited 2005 study published in The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research, researchers found that the scent of lavender promoted deeper, more restorative sleep in subjects.
Go to sleep at the same time every night.
Last-minute emergencies and late nights at the office get in the way of your routine. However, if you want to ensure that you're getting restful slumber every night, you should do your best to go to bed consistently at the same time. As the National Sleep Foundation notes, sticking to a sleep schedule "helps to regulate your body's clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night."
Make reading part of your nightly routine.
Whether you're a fantasy fanatic or you prefer to revel in romance novels, try to indulge in a good book before bed every night. In one notable 2009 study from the University of Sussex, researchers found that reading reduced stress levels by 68 percent—and the less stressed you are, the easier it is to drift off into dreamland.
Get a massage.
Need an excuse to indulge in a massage? Well, one major 1998 study from the University of Arkansas College of Nursing concluded that back massages were an effective way to promote sleep among critically ill patients.
Spend some time outside during the day.
If you want better sleep, make sure to soak up some daylight before the sun sets. In one oft-cited 1993 study from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, exposure to bright light during the day was associated with increased sleep time and overall improvements in age-related insomnia.
Eliminate any clutter in your bedroom.
There are several reasons why you should keep your bedroom devoid of clutter—better sleep being one of them. Per one study presented at the 2015 meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, people at risk of hoarding disorder tend to experience more sleep disturbances and take longer to fall asleep.
"Hoarders typically have problems with decision making and executive function; poor sleep is known to compromise cognition generally, so if hoarders have cluttered/unusable bedrooms (and less comfortable, functional beds), any existing risk for cognitive dysfunction, depression, and stress may increase as sleep quality worsens," lead author Pamela Thacher, assistant professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University, said in a statement.
If you share a bed, get separate blankets.
Do you toss and turn at night because your partner is a blanket hog? If that's the case, you'll sleep better simply by investing in a second blanket—one for each body. If you're worried about this looking strange, you can cover the two blankets up with a single comforter. Problem solved!
Avoid checking your emails after work hours.
It can be tempting to check your emails even after you've left the office. However, your health and happiness will seriously benefit from you shutting off and shutting down once work hours are over.
And when we say shutting down, we mean forgetting about work entirely: One 2018 study from Virginia Tech found that so much as thinking about checking those emails can increase stress levels and thereby get in the way of your precious sleep.
And keep electronics out of the bedroom entirely.
Try not to fall asleep while scrolling through Instagram or while catching up on your favorite Netflix series either. Though it can be tempting to use your electronics until the second you drift off, one 2012 study published in Applied Ergonomics found that spending two hours on devices with backlit displays suppressed melatonin by approximately 22 percent, thereby making it harder to fall asleep.
Turn your alarm clock away from you.
When you're having difficulty falling asleep, staring at the clock only makes it worse. "It increases your stress and worry about not falling asleep," Lisa Meltzer, an education scholar for the National Sleep Foundation, explained to HuffPost.
Her solution? Turn your alarm clock away from you. If you can't watch the minutes go by, you'll have a much easier time de-stressing and soothing yourself to sleep.
When you struggle to fall asleep, think about staying awake.
This advice might sound counterintuitive, but as Colin Espie, a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford, told CNN, it works. "If you can be comfortable with the idea of remaining awake, then the performance anxiety and frustration that are associated with trying to sleep have nowhere to go and your arousal level drops," he explained.
Try using an anxiety-relieving app.
Yes, generally speaking, you should keep devices out of the bedroom, but if your anxiety is what's keeping you up at night, then a meditative app like Headspace or Calm might be what you need to sleep better. These guided meditation apps—which all take a different approach to anxiety and stress relief—are designed to ease your mind and eliminate any thoughts that are preventing you from dozing off.
Take melatonin—just not too much.
You know that hormone we mentioned earlier called melatonin, the one that tells your body when it's time to sleep? Though your body produces it naturally, it's also sold as an over-the-counter supplement, and you can use it to fall asleep faster.
Just be sure not to take too much: As the National Sleep Foundation notes, taking too much melatonin can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and irritation. Between two-tenths of a milligram and five milligrams an hour before you plan on going to sleep should do the trick!