Over 40? Here Are the Best Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
You need just as much quality shuteye at 40 as you do at 14.
As you age, you’re destined to sleep less—and more often than not, the sleep itself will be less than satisfying. But, according to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s “a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age.” Put another way: You need just as much quality shuteye at 40 as you do at 14.
Thankfully, improving your sleep—whether you’re looking to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, or wake up without soul-crushing levels of grogginess—isn’t a Sisyphean slog. A dietary change here, a well-placed bedroom upgrade there, and you’ll be off to dreamland in no time, sleeping like the teenager you once were.
Use a weighted blanket.
“Sleep like a baby” refers to sleeping. (No surprise.) But the phrase also refers to falling asleep; we swaddle babies and they instantly drift off. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a baby to be swaddled. Just pick up a weighted blanket. The heavier fibers will lull you to sleep—like a baby.
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. But, according to research out of Harvard Medical School, your body temperature drops a few degrees at the onset of sleep. Ease your body off to dreamland by lowering the temperature in your room. The target: Between 60 and 67 degree Fahrenheit.
Hop in the shower.
Another way to lower your body’s core temperature is to take a shower. You know that feeling when, after turn off the water, but before toweling off, you feel a bit chilly? That’s your body cooling down. Small wonder that showering is one of the 11 Doctor-Approved Ways to Fall Asleep Faster—Tonight.
Buy a bouquet.
It’s natural to be irritable in the morning. But even if you’re the most dedicated of night owls—and struggle daily with putting two feet on the ground—you can instantly eliminate that irritability. According to a study conducted by the American Society of Florists, spearheaded by a Harvard Medical School researcher, keeping flowers in your room can slash anxiety and stress, ultimately leading to better sleep.
Do more HIIT.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, just a few minutes of “vigorous activity” can boost your sleep function. On the whole, active people tend to report more feelings of sleep satisfaction. To boost your activity level, give high intensity-interval training a try. Or, if you only have a few minutes to spare, try the four-minute Tabata workout: 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. And you can do it with any exercise: biking, burpees, pushups, sprinting, squats—you name it.
Destroy your circadian rhythm.
Whether you’re a lark or a night owl depends on your genome, thanks to what experts call “chronotypes.” Thankfully, chronotypes aren’t set in stone so much as really, really, really tough plastic; over time, with enough effort and energy, you can bend them to your will.
When it comes to changing your sleep chronotype, your best bet is to download an alarm-substitute app. These apps (like Alarmy or Step Out!) require mental fortitude (solving a math problem, taking a specific photo) before shutting off your alarm. That way, you won’t just slam snooze and go back to sleep.
Drink cherry juice.
According to research in the American Journal of Therapeutics, a glass of fresh cherry juice before bed can add nearly an hour-and-a-half to a person’s sleep cycle. Why fresh? Because the processed stuff contains loads of added sugars, which can ultimately inhibit you from getting a good night’s rest.
Slip into some socks.
If you’re not used to it, this move can uncomfortable at first, especially if you’ve spent decades abhorring it. But wearing socks to bed is a surefire way to improve your sleep. According to a study in 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.” Put another way: You’ll fall asleep faster.
Eat a banana.
You’ve heard time and again that eating before bed is verboten—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, the practice is totally fine. According to research out of Airlangga University, elderly folks who ate a banana or two before bed saw their pillow-to-dozing time significant reduced.
Keep the lights on.
At least as you’re first nodding off. A study in the Journal of Circadian Rhythms revealed that dim lighting can increase melatonin—the hormone that makes you fall asleep—production. If you’re concerned about driving up the electric bill, however, invest in a light timer, which will turn off your light after a preset period of time. Lowe’s, Home Depot, and, of course, the everything store (you know: Amazon) all carry reasonably priced light timers.
If it’s not already, fish should be a staple in your diet. Loaded with proteins and healthy fats, seafood can help tone muscle, boost energy, and sate appetite. What’s more, according to new research out of the University of Pennsylvania, fish can help you sleep like never before. Fish—sockeye salmon in particular—contains Omega-3s, which can help lull you off to dreamland (and keep you there for longer).
Or get some fishy supplements.
“Fishy” as in fish oil, not medically circumspect. If you don’t like the taste of fish, you can get your fill of Omega-3s by popping fish oil tablets. Just 600mg (or one highly concentrated capsule) nightly should do the trick.
Kick your pet(s) off the bed.
Yes, you’ve had the fella for years, and they’ve slept soundly on your mattress for a significant chunk of that time. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, you’ll sleep better if your pet stays off the mattress. With a dog or cat on the bed, you’re more likely, at the expense of your own sleep quality, to try to sleep in a still position, to avoid inadvertently kicking your pet in the face (unless you’re a total sociopath).
But keep them in the room.
Thankfully, the Mayo Clinic also found that having pets nearby helps promote the onset off sleep; just knowing they’re around reduces levels of anxiety and stress, helping you fall asleep faster. (If they’re in the room with you, you’ll also dodge the inevitable sleep-inhibiting annoyance of an animal scratching at your door in the dead of night.)
Figure out your sleep position.
Experts at the Better Sleep Council narrowed down the various sleep positions to six: fetal (on your side, curled up), yearner (on your side, arms out stretched), log (on your side, still as a, well, log), solider (on your back, still as a log), starfish (on your back, sprawled out) and free fall (on your stomach, sprawled out). Once you know your sleep position, you can optimize your pillow to keep your neck and back cradled for perfect, restful sleep.
Sleep with your feet outside the covers.
As mentioned, cooling down is a key way to fall asleep quickly. And one of the easiest ways to do so is to pop your feet out from under the blanket. As a study in Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine revealed, sticking your feet out can drop your body temperature to ideal levels in just a few minutes, even if the rest of your body is under the safety of a giant blanket.
Fill your room with lavender.
Candles, incense, a diffuser—whatever your fragrance-maker of choice, fill it up with lavender. According to The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research, folks who smell lavender at 10 minute intervals over a half-hour period experience deeper sleep and increased first-morning energy. Also, it smells great. Win-win.
You’re well aware by now that every doctor on the planet will tell you to put down the smokes for good—and yes, that includes sleep doctors. In fact, researchers at the American College of Chest Physicians found that cigarette smokers were four times as likely to report unsatisfying sleep as nonsmokers.
Double check your OTC pain medications.
Certain over-the-counter pain relief meds—Excedrin Migraine, for example—contain caffeine. So if you have a headache and reach for the wrong pill, you could inadvertently stay up far later than you intend. To be safe, stick with caffeine-free acetaminophen, which you’ll recognize as Tylenol.
Switch to decaf…
…in the afternoon. (Under no circumstances would we recommend cutting caffeine out entirely. That’s practically sacrilege.) But studies have found that drinking caffeine even past 2:00 p.m. can have serious impediments for sleeping—yes, even though you’re not heading to bed until later. For best bets, try to keep at least six hours between caffeine consumption and bedtime.
Get a dehumidifier.
If you’re suffering allergies, your mattress might be the culprit. Fact: it’s full of dust. Over years, dust mites—which, at one-quarter of one millimeter in size, are too small for the naked eye to see—have likely made home inside your mattress, and, once there, can cause wake-you-up sneezing, coughing, and other allergic reactions. Thankfully, there’s an easy solution to rid these critters once and for all. Since they only thrive where humidity levels are about 50 percent, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, a dehumidifier should banish them—for good.
Seal your mattress.
Another way to prevent dust mites: seal your mattress with a plastic wrap. That way, they won’t be able to get in and burrow into your mattress fibers in the first place. To prevent discomfort from laying on plastic, invest in some seriously sumptuous sheets.
Choose your sheets by the season.
For optimal body temperature regulation: Toasty flannel in winter; cooling chambray in summer; luxurious cotton in autumn and spring. (Just makes sure they’re tasteful.)
Crack the door (or window) open.
Chances are, you’ve been sleeping with the door closed for years. But according to researchers from the Eindhoven University of Technology, you should buck that habit. You see, by keeping the door closed, you’re trapping extraneous carbon dioxide—a known inhibitor for sleep quality—in your room. So open up the door—or, if it’s weather-appropriate, opening a window will do the trick, too.
Write a to-do list.
It may seem antithetical to sleep (which is relaxing) to think about your tasks (which likely aren’t). But, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, writing your to-do list 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.
Recall how awesome your day was.
If you don’t want to think about your to-do list, the researchers revealed, in that same Journal of Experimental Psychology study, that writing the prior day’s accomplishments down works just as well.
Cut back on the pre-bed booze.
Based on every time you’ve zonked after having a few too many, alcohol makes you sleep better, right? Well, according to research in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, that’s not the case. See, alcohol consumption cuts into and reduces the quality of your REM sleep—that’s the time of the sleep cycle where you’re, you know, actually resting up. So skip that nightcap. And for best bets, if you have been drinking, guzzle 16 ounces of water before bed. That will reduce the inevitable hangover.
Block your blue light.
You’re heard time and again about the negative effect blue light has on sleep. (For the uninitiated: Blue light, which is emitted by any electronic device with a screen, puts a damper on melatonin production, making it more difficult to drift off soundly.) That said, these days, it can be tough to unplug entirely. So, if you insist on using your phone, tablet, computer, or television right up to bedtime, blue light–blocking glasses. These custom lenses—made by companies like Healthy Office and Pixel Eyewear—block blue light emissions, look suave as a pair of Tom Fords, and typically retail for under a hundred bucks.
Power down (and read).
Of course, the best way to block blue light for certain is to power down completely. Consider reading: a book, a magazine—anything. Researchers at the University of Sussex found that folks who read for an hour before bed were 70 percent likely to fall asleep in a relaxed state.
According to research in JAMA Internal Medicine, meditation—in addition to slashing stress and dialing back your blood pressure levels—can help you stay asleep continuously throughout the night. Best of all, it only takes ten minutes.
Eat more tryptophan.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that naturally helps promote the onset of sleep; it increases serotonin levels, thus bringing about greater feelings of relaxation. You can find good amounts of tryptophan in turkey, peanut butter, and bananas.
Put on a pot of chamomile tea.
Yes, this trick actually works. Drinking chamomile tea will cause your brain to release a chemical called glycine, which helps lull you to sleep. What’s more, according to the American Chemical Society, the chamomile-glycine connection can help prevent you from getting sick, so you won’t worry about waking up in the middle of the night due to fever, cough, or chills.
Wrap your Timex in rubber.
Certain watches (we’re looking at you, Timex) tick like a bomb in the third act of a Mission: Impossible film—even if they’re tucked away in a drawer across the room. If this noise is keeping you up at night, wrap your watch in some soundproof, malleable vinyl rubber. The material won’t scratch your timepiece, and you’ll nod off without any distracting noises.
Stick to a schedule.
If you wake up at 7:30 a.m. during the week, wake up at 7:30 a.m. on the weekends. Yes, we know that’s a tall order. But, by sticking to a schedule, your body will get used to the early call time and it will eventually become the new normal.
Swap your mattress.
How long have you had your mattress? If the answer is “since college,” get a new one—tonight. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you should swap your mattress out ever seven to ten years. Any more than that and you’ve likely worn down the springs, which will lead to discomfort and ultimately unrestful sleep.
Try the “4-7-8” method.
When all else fails, try Dr. Andrew Weil’s method: The 4-7-8. Here’s how: Place the tip of your tongue against the tissue behind your top front teeth. Exhale through your mouth, completely, and make a whoosh noise. Close your mouth. Inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale through your mouth again—yes, you still have to whoosh. Repeat the whole thing three or four times.
Blow some bubbles.
Who knew playing like a child could help you sleep so well? As researchers from Johns Hopkins University found, blowing bubbles is a soothing breathing exercise, calming both your body and mind—and ultimately leading to easy-onset sleep.
Put on some tunes.
Whether it’s some coffee shop jazz or a playlist of rainy day acoustic, slow-paced music—songs that clock in at 80 beats per minute or less—can, according to a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, help sooth the mind and lull you to sleep.
Stretch it out.
According to the Journal of Physiotherapy, stretching before bed can significantly reduce middle-of-the-night wake-ups,. Once people top 40, muscles tend to tense up easier. Stretching before bed ensures those cramps won’t happen at inopportune times (in other words: Between bedtime and your alarm).
Consider trying “clean sleeping.”
If none of these tips appeal to you, consider trying the Gwyneth Paltrow–endorsed trend of “clean sleeping.” Our correspondent tried it for a week—and it changed her life.
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