Retirement Life
5 September 2022

Supporting sleep health during retirement - Part one

As we age, our sleep patterns change. We may have trouble falling asleep, or we may find ourselves waking during the night and being unable to get back to sleep – and those seemingly ever-increasing trips to the toilet in the night don’t help matters either! Or we may simply feel like sleeping more during the day and less at night.


The science behind sleep is complex, as it is largely connected to the workings of our brains. But what is clear (for all ages) is that lack of sleep, or poor quality of sleep, can have a detrimental effect on our health, wellbeing, mood and concentration levels. In fact, lack of sleep has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and other diseases, so it’s worth looking at how we can improve our sleep.


Why does ageing affect sleep?

We all have an internal body clock in the brain, which controls our circadian rhythms. As we get older, deterioration in the function of the physiological body clock can disrupt circadian rhythms and hence influence when we feel tired or alert. Changes in hormones can also play a role in disrupted sleep. As we age, we produce less melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep at night.


It also gets slightly more complicated as we age, as we typically may be dealing with other mental and physical health conditions and also taking medications. The side effects of these medications can contribute to sleep issues. Our change in lifestyle during retirement can also be a factor – we may be working less outside of the home, or we may be feeling more socially isolated. All of these can contribute to sleep issues.


Dr Rosie Gibson from the School of Psychology at Massey University has been studying sleep in older people for many years. She says there are guidelines on how much sleep we should get, but there are also many other dimensions to what constitutes good sleep. “Although it is well known that as we get older, our sleep typically becomes lighter and more fragmented, sleep duration and sleep regularity are also important and should be prioritised to support sleep as well as waking mental health and social wellbeing.”

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Sleep tips

There are many things you can do to help yourself sleep better. These tips focus on improving sleep hygiene, i.e. the practice of good sleep and developing healthy habits to encourage sleep.


Create a regular sleep schedule.

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This regularity helps to regulate your body’s natural sleep rhythm. Be careful about napping too long during the day.


Create a bedtime routine.

Doing the same things every night before bed, such as taking a bath or reading a book, can help to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. “Keeping a regular schedule for sleep and waking activities will strengthen the internal body clock and help the mind and body to relax at nighttime,” says Dr Gibson.


Create a comfortable sleep environment.

Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. Remove distractions like screens and cellphones, which emit blue light that is detrimental to sleep. Keep the television in another room and avoid falling asleep in front of the TV. Dr Gibson talks about having a “safe sleep zone” to aid our sleep.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.

Ideally, all together! Alcohol may help you to fall asleep (as it’s a sedative), but it also can interfere with your sleep.



Movement during the day is crucial to ensure you get better sleep at night.


Can't fall asleep? Move.

And finally, if you can’t sleep, don’t lie in bed awake. Get up and do something else until you feel sleepy. “Make a plan for what you will do if you cannot fall asleep,” says Dr Gibson. “Try getting out of bed and spending a little time in another room doing a relaxing activity (not involving a screen) before going back to bed.”


Dr Gibson also recommends consulting your doctor if you have a long-lasting sleep problem. “Most of these tips are common knowledge and can be used to support general sleep health,” says Rosie. “But if you feel excessively sleepy during the day, or you think you have a clinical sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea (characterised by heavy snoring or trouble with your breathing while you sleep), a doctor can advise and refer you to a local sleep clinic, if necessary.”


By considering sleep as among the key aspects of healthy ageing, we can start to make progress on improving our relationship with sleep. In a future article, we’ll look at some common sleep issues for retirees and what we can do about them.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.

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Photo of Kathy Catton
Written by:

Kathy Catton

Kathy Catton is a freelance writer and editor, based on the Banks Peninsula. She is an experienced feature writer, magazine editor and copywriter. Quick to grasp the crux of any story and tell it in plain English, Kathy enjoys bringing stories to readers that surprise and delight.

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