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The Power of Zzzs: Navigating the World of Sleep Hygiene for Better Rest

By Mary Flett March 16, 2024 Health and Fitness

It may come as a surprise to learn, but we still don’t have a good understanding of why we sleep or what actually goes on while we are sleeping. One theory holds that the brain needs to “clean house” and restore itself (recharging). Another suggests that sleep is an adaptive strategy for conserving energy and slowing metabolism. Still another, quite practical one, suggests that sleep is a strategy for not being eaten by other animals.

There is so much we don’t know. We don’t know how much sleep we actually need. When we observe different mammals, sleep can range from months (think hibernation), to nano-seconds. Humans seem to sleep more when they are younger, a bit less after adolescence, and then in differing amounts at the later stages of life.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream?

We don’t know why we nap; but we know that napping is good for some folks and an indication of illness for others. We don’t know why some people are able to sleep during the day and not at night or why most people sleep at night.

And speaking of nighttime, we know that most of us dream. We know that because people report their dreams, and researchers can wire you up and see your brain waves shift in predictable patterns. But we don’t know why we..000 are dreaming.

What Do We Know?

We do know that quality sleep is essential to brain health at any age. This is especially true for those of us over 50. Maybe, like me, you were taught that eight hours of sleep a night was the gold standard. Turns out that this is the average. Some of us need less and some of us need more.

To confound that information, we don’t all need to get our sleep at once. I know people who sleep 3-4 hours at a time, then get up and do things for a couple of hours, and then go back to bed for another 3-4 hours. This is just perfect for them!

For others, a combination of short naps during the day lends itself to sleeping steadily through the night. Still others, especially those who are managing pain medications, find themselves sleeping 10-12 hours.

There is no single “right amount” of sleep for everyone. Finding what is “just right” for you can be challenging, but it’s important to keep in mind that your needs are the ones that you are targeting. And you are worth the effort!

Insomnia: The Scourge of Old Age

An all-too-common complaint for many of us as we age is insomnia. This is one of those experiences where worrying about being unable to sleep contributes to not being able to sleep. Telling someone to stop worrying doesn’t seem to work (who knew?). Finding out what is causing the sleep disruption is essential in deciding how best to treat it and getting you back to a regular routine.

Here are just a few reasons that contribute to poor quality sleep and may result in insomnia:

  1. hunger,
  2. diet,
  3. lack of exercise,
  4. being dehydrated,
  5. too much light,
  6. having screens on (TV, phone, iPad),
  7. being in pain,
  8. feeling anxious or depressed,
  9. feeling sad,
  10. being sick,
  11. being excited or anticipating something good happening,
  12. being scared or anticipating something bad happening,
  13. change of environment,
  14. change of sleeping partners,
  15. sleeping with/without pets,
  16. change of season,
  17. noise (silence),
  18. temperature,
  19. weather

Some Tried and True Tips When Sleep Doesn’t Come Easily

You can see from the list above that lots of things can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep! Some of them you have control over and some of them you do not. To the degree you have control over your environment (light, sound, temperature), find your happy medium and do your best to maintain it.

If you do need to manage change, then cut yourself some slack and allow yourself time to adjust. When it is due to a physical issue (pain or illness), make good use of your primary care provider. When it is due to a psychological problem, reach out to a therapist and get support.

Here are things that all of us can benefit from using in creating good sleep habits:

  • Stop eating a couple of hours before going to bed.
  • Stay hydrated!
  • Keep a regular bedtime.
  • Sleep cool (between 60 and 65 F).
  • No screens; turn off noise and lights.
  • If you wake up, don’t toss and turn. Get up, move about a little bit (it’s like re-booting your phone), then repeat your going to bed routine.
  • Cut yourself some slack. If you don’t sleep well for a couple of nights, that is okay.

If you find yourself having trouble falling and staying asleep on a regular basis (more than a week or two), contact your primary care provider and get a referral to a sleep specialist.

Take Home Message

Here’s the take home message: Ask yourself when you wake up, “Do I feel refreshed? Do I have energy?” If the answer is “Yes” to both, it really doesn’t matter how many hours you slept. If your answer is “No,” then pay attention to the different things mentioned above and see what needs changing.

Sweet dreams!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What is your sleep routine? What factors influence your sleep? Are you an average sleeper, or do you need less or more than eight hours of sleep? Do you nap during the day? What do you do if you wake up at night?

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Carol Anne Cole

I have a horrible time getting to sleep if I am hungry. It simply won’t happen. My appetite is ridiculous – I have to eat right before going to bed and often have to get up and eat in the middle of the night. I am diabetic, but I have had this issue for many many years, like at least 30. I am 69.


This is a great topic! In fact I have saved screen shots to tell a friend about insomnia! I will have to read it to her as she doesn’t know how to read from her computer 🤷🏻‍♀️🙏🏽🙋🏻‍♀️👍🏽


I’ve just done a course on sleep I’ve found out that I sleep better if I go to bed late also when I can’t sleep I get up and down something then I tend to sleep better


I find for me eliminating all caffeine (except occasional chocolate) and no TV for one hour before bed. I usually read in my chair(not the bed) for one hour. This leads to a great night sleep! I have a chair in my bedroom because my husband watches TV before bed.

Susan Goodman

I have been going to bed too late at night because I’m watching too much TV. But the irony all this is that well reading this article I dozed off. I woke with a start and realized I should really focus on the article.

The Author

Dr. Flett is a keen observer of all things related to aging, and is known for her unique ability to bring humor and clarity to complex and emotionally challenging topics. She passionately shares her 30+ years’ experience as a psychologist in how to age better and age well.

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