Understand common sleep problems seniors face and how to treat them
There’s a common misconception that your sleep matters less as you age, but in fact, the inverse is true. No matter where you lie on the age spectrum you should be conscious of improving your sleeping habits for your holistic health.
For older adults, this is especially true. Your sleeping habits will naturally change as you age, so it’s important that you remain aware of those shifts and understand the best ways to protect your sleep quality.
Seniors may experience changes in becoming more sleepy during the day, being ready for bed earlier in the evenings, waking up earlier, or having trouble achieving deep sleep. Although these changes can be normal, suffering from disturbed sleeping patterns or other symptoms of insomnia are issues that should not be dismissed as a side effect of aging.
It can make us feel better, happier and more positive almost instantaneously. When we’re feeling down, even a forced smile in the mirror can lift our mood and help us feel more optimistic about life, even when we face challenges.
Most of us will smile when we make eye contact with someone smiling and know that if we smile at someone, even a stranger, very often they will smile back.
Why is that?
Charles Darwin, in his 1872 publication “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” was one of the first to propose that “the free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it.”
From research since that time, we have the facial feedback hypothesis which states that “facial movement can influence experience”. In other words, our facial expressions contribute to how we feel.
When we smile and flex the zygomatic major muscle (the one thatraises the corners of the mouth when a person smiles) our brain thinks, “I must be happy.”
So, if your mood is neutral or worse, the facial feedback hypothesis says it will improve by simply smiling.
People who smile appear more likeable according to researchers at the Face Research Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland in 2011. Subjects were asked to rate smiling and attractiveness and both men and women were more attracted to images of people who made eye contact and smiled than those who did not.
Smilers tend to be more productive at work and make more money (for example, waitresses know they’ll receive better tips when they smile at their customers or even draw smiley faces on the bill!)
Other Benefits of Smiling
Smiling releases the feel-good neurotransmitters, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin that provide numerous health benefits, including:
Reduced blood pressure
Strengthened immune system
In a tense setting, smiling not only decreases your stress levels, it makes you more relaxed, allowing you to better collect your thoughts and make more informed decisions.It can also make you seem more trustworthy and competent and because smiling is contagious, when you smile others will likely smile too, making them more relaxed as well.
So smile more often, at yourself and at others. You can never know what is happening in other people’s lives, but some people feel very lonely and isolated so just smiling can make a huge difference in their day.
Be aware, however, that not everyone is capable of responding. Studies have shown that facial feedback appears to be processed differently by individuals in the autism spectrum. Anyone suffering facial paralysis does not have the ability to smile and unfortunately statistics show that these people suffer more from depression than the general populations.
So if you smile at someone and they don’t respond, don’t make judgements or be discouraged, keep smiling as you will always benefit yourself.
“Everything we are, arises with our thoughts”. Buddha is believed to have said this thousands of years ago, but it is not original, the concept is also found in the Bible, in Hindu sacred literature and is fundamental to most of the world’s religions.
The problem for most of us is that thoughts just come into our head without us doing anything to put them there in much the same way that our heart beats without us having to think about it. These are often referred to as automatic thoughts and a lot of the time they are negative, even though we don’t realise it, and we are thinking and worrying about things in the past or in the future, stressing out over things we have no control over and that may be highly unlikely to ever happen anyway. Sometimes, these thoughts in our mind seem to be going around and around to such an extent that we feel overwhelmed because we don’t know how to turn them off.
So, the important question really is “can we control our thoughts and focus only on the thoughts that we believe are important to us and let all the others go by?
The good news is that we can. William James, one of the founders of the philosophical school of pragmatism, said “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Of course, although we have the ability to choose which thoughts to focus on, we have to train our mind to filter out probably 99% of our thoughts as they are not useful.
Learning to Train Your Mind
A good way to start is to practice what has become known as mindfulness, the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment?—?and accepting it without judgement. Scientific studies of mindfulness have found it to be a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness.
It’s become increasingly common for mindfulness meditation to be combined with psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioural therapy, which makes makes good sense, since meditation and this therapy share the common goal of helping people gain perspective on irrational, dysfunctional, and self-defeating thoughts.
There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, and a web search will bring up many options such as joining a yoga group or daily meditation. But if you want to get started on your own, here’s the method I learned about 15 years ago and it has worked well for me.
Sit or lie comfortably in a quiet place and relax your body
Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus and become aware of sounds, sensations and the thoughts passing through your mind
Accept each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race or to wander, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
Once you learn to focus your thoughts this way, you can change negative thoughts to positive ones.
Perhaps you dread going to the dentist yet have an appointment coming up and your thought is “I have to go to the dentist”. Consider this thought and realise that when we say we “have to” do something we are dis-empowering ourselves, making ourselves the victim of what we must do. Experiment with using a different word, such as “I plan to go to the dentist” and repeat this new sentence a few times and see if you feel a subtle difference in your mind and body. Now, make another change to your sentences such as, “I choose to go to the dentist” and notice the difference you feel. Once again, change your sentence to something really positive like, “I really appreciate the benefits of going to the dentist and getting my teeth fixed up” and realise that it is true, you really do feel better after your dentist has finished working on your teeth.
Now that you understand the process, use it on other limiting thoughts you have, such as:
I don’t like meeting new people
I’m terrified of having to speak in public
I’ll never lose weight
I hate my job
You Are In control of Your Life
With time and practice your thoughts will become more positive and more empowering. Unconscious thoughts will still occur naturally but it’s up to you to monitor them and control the quality of your thinking.
You are the master of your thoughts and the creator of your life. You are always in control even if you make poor choices!
“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking”. ? William James
“Control your thoughts and everything will be under your control.” ? Debasish Mridha
“We must be OK with the idea that some of our work will be ignored or disliked.”
This was timely advice for me because I’d been spending so much time on each article that it was turning into a real drag, instead of something I’d hoped to enjoy and be stimulated by. You’d think, being in my senior years now, that I’d have understood this concept pretty well by now and I do, in other areas of my life, but this is the first time I’ve really put my writing “out there” and so there’s this tendency to be self-conscious and want perfection (never achieved of course) but still aimed at.
Alex’s other sentence that jumped out at me was:
“Showing up will show the world you mean business, but it?—?more importantly?—?will show yourself what you are capable of.”
Now that was just what I wanted to hear; it doesn’t matter if anyone reads my stuff or not, I’m writing for myself and to see what happens. Self-growth of some kind must occur!
The internet offers a wealth of opportunity for staying in touch with family and friends; gathering helpful information, even paying bills and shopping from the comfort of your own home. If you have never used the internet before it can seem daunting but once you take small steps you will find it is much more accessible than you might first believe.