Advice for getting a good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep leaves us feeling energized, focused and improves both mental and physical health. As we get older, there are various changes to our sleep cycle that can cause difficulty sleeping at night, leading to daytime drowsiness.

Being awake or asleep is controlled by the circadian rhythm and the homeostatic sleep drive. While the circadian rhythm controls the overall sleep-wake cycle, the homeostatic sleep drive is a daily build-up of hormones and metabolites that make us tired.

It’s been found that, as we age, our circadian rhythm will naturally shift “one phase.” This leads to us sleeping and waking up earlier.

As we age, there are also normal hormonal changes that impact our sleep. These changes cause us to sleep less, wake up more easily and often during the night, have difficulty falling asleep and have less slow-wave and REM [rapid eye movement] sleep.

These natural sleep changes can be further exacerbated by medical conditions. In addition, we all may have developed some bad sleep hygiene, or habits that lead to bad sleeping conditions.

How can we reduce daytime drowsiness and sleep better at night? Here are some non-pharmacological sleep hygiene methods found to possibly help improve sleep quality and wakefulness during the day.

Blue light, which can come from LED [light-emitting diode] televisions, computers, or smartphones, can lower the amount of melatonin we release. Melatonin is a hormone involved in the circadian rhythm that helps us fall asleep. Harvard Medical School recommends avoiding any screens for two to three hours before sleeping to reduce the amount of blue light exposure to help improve sleep.

Calming music for 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime has been found to also improve sleep quality and daytime energy. A study in Taiwan found that its subjects who listened to music fell asleep faster for much longer hours with fewer disruptions and overall, felt like they slept much better.

As much as we all love that heavenly cup of Joe, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it may be best to avoid any coffee at least six hours before bedtime. This tip also includes avoiding any caffeine products like teas or energy drinks.

Caffeine taken six hours or less prior to bedtime can delay sleep since it blocks adenosine, a key player in our homeostatic sleep drive. Adenosine is important for helping us relax and feel sleepy at those bedtime hours.

On the other hand, a hot cup of chamomile tea may lower the amount of disruptions during sleep and improve daytime wakefulness. If chamomile is not your cup of tea, aromatherapy with chamomile extract with lavender essential oil has also been shown to also improve sleep.

And finally, exercise! Exercise has been found to not only improve daytime wakefulness and sleep quality but also mental health. Exercise can range from an evening stroll to high-intensity physical resistance strength training in the afternoon.

It’s dependent on your own mobility. Some studies have found that, in order to improve sleep, it may be necessary to pair exercise with a short 30-minute midafternoon nap or social activity.


This article is not medical advice and should not substitute medical judgement.

Community Caregivers is a noto-for-profit agency supported by community donations, and grants from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Department of Health and Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Editor’s note: Hyun Ah Michelle Yoon is a Community Caregivers’ intern and an Albany Medical College student, scheduled to graduate in 2024.