Sleep, the mighty healer

Sleep is often ignored yet it contributes to your health in countless ways. For starters, good sleep boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation, allows joint cartilage to repair, cuts your risk of heart attack and consolidates your daytime memories.

Quality sleep also contributes to skin healing and helps you live longer.

On the downside, not getting enough uninterrupted sleep can impair your decision-making, increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and lead to heightened anxiety.

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, Australians over 55 get about six hours and 50 minutes sleep a night.

This is less than the recommended seven to eight hours for this time of life.

Here are five ways to improve the quality of your sleep:

1. Cut down on coffee and alcohol
Older people tend to drink more coffee and more alcohol than their younger peers. Drinking coffee in the afternoon or evening can reduce the quality of your sleep. As for alcohol, while an evening drink may help you fall asleep, as your body metabolises it a few hours into the night it can disturb your slumber.

2. Don’t stay in bed too long

As we age, we tend to get tired earlier and wake earlier but if you are not listening to your body and going to bed earlier you may find it hard to get to sleep and stay asleep. Also, when you wake up, get up. Don’t stay in bed simply because you used to wake later. And lastly, keep those daytime naps short.

3. Declutter your bedroom

Bedrooms should be restful places. If you have piles of books or clothing by your bed, move them. Be sure the room is dark. If moonlight or street light peeks through, consider getting thicker curtains or adding an outside screen. Alternatively, sleep masks are comfortable and very effective at blocking out light. They can be picked up at pharmacies and travel goods shops.

4. Get some sunshine and exercise

Spending time outdoors helps with the production of melatonin which has an important role to play in your sleep patterns. Daily exercise is also helpful. One study showed that for chronic sufferers of insomnia, taking a walk reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the time they spent in uninterrupted sleep. In contrast, there was no improvement with vigorous exercise such as running or weight lifting.

5. Set up a relaxing sleep routine
Aim to go to bed and get up at about the same time each day. Stop using electronic items an hour before bedtime as the blue light prevents the release of melatonin. Clear your head by writing down any jobs that need your attention tomorrow.

Turn down the lights. Try some physical prompts to tell your body you are ready for sleep, for instance, apply a scented hand cream, take several deep breaths or tense and relax your muscles repeatedly. 

Take your sleep seriously. It is not something we do, like putting the car in the garage when the day is done. It’s a powerful healer that you can use for free.

Poor sleep is not a normal part of ageing so see your doctor if you have on-going concerns.

 Kendall Morton is the Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email