By Cheryl Harbour
You wouldn’t want to be swaddled and you don’t absolutely have to sleep on your back. But sleep is just as important for grandparents as it is for babies. In addition to making us feel better during the day, when we’re asleep our bodies are working to restore muscle tissues and bones, regulate our hormones, and give our brains the chance to sort and store memories.
Getting enough sleep isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. For some people (an estimated 35% of adults in the U.S) with certain risk factors – obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal insulin production, it’s critical. A new study from the American Heart Association finds sleeping less than six hours a night could more than double the risk of death for people in this group. Other conditions, such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, acid reflux, and just plain aches and pains, can prevent a good night’s sleep.
Experts share six steps to better sleep:
- Limit caffeine after 4 pm.
- Limit stimulating activities for several hours before bed.
- Get enough exercise earlier in the day.
- Get into a bedtime routine. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist, and specialist in sleep medicine, suggests a 20-20-20 routine: 20 minutes to get ready for the next day; 20 minutes for personal hygiene; 20 minutes of relaxing activity such as reading, journaling, meditating, etc.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Eliminate in your bedroom the “blue lights” that many types of electronic equipment display.
- Try a few rounds of 4-7-8 breathing. Originally a Yoga breathing technique that mimics the breathing rhythm your body falls into during sleep. If you don’t know about that breathing style, Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known expert in the area of holistic medicine, demonstrates in this video. (He also recommends this breathing technique for relieving stress in your waking hours.)
Respect your Circadian Rhythm
A Circadian Rhythm is a cycle every human being goes through each 24 hours. Part of its effect is to regulate our sleepiness and wakefulness. Although not everyone is alike, most people are at their sleepiest between 2 and 4 a.m. – and sometimes feel a slump between 1 and 3 pm. (And you thought it was just that boring meeting that was putting you to sleep after lunch!)
Natural light is a stimulant to your circadian rhythm, so a walk in the sunshine first thing in the morning signals your system that it’s time to be awake and alert. Likewise, bright artificial lights at night – including the electronic blue lights that stay on when your electronic devices are off – send the wrong message when it’s time to get to sleep.
It helps your natural rhythm if you maintain as much as possible a somewhat regular schedule of going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time in the morning. If you’re someone who travels and changes time zones frequently, your circadian rhythm may be knocked off course.
So, if you need a little extra help getting to sleep – try some of those lullabies you’ll be singing to your GRANDbaby. ‘Hush, little baby, don’t say a word…”
About the Author – Cheryl Harbour
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.