by Morley Stettner
Sleep patterns may change after retirement
Newly hired retirees adjust to a new, unfettered lifestyle. They have the freedom to spend their days however they want. And they can sleep as late as they want.
But should it?
Studies link healthy sleep habits and longevity. So, how should recent retirees fine-tune their sleep cycles to maximize their health?
“Retirement will lead to more time in bed than appropriate,” warns Brienne Minor, M.D., a geriatrician and sleep physician at Yale University School of Medicine. “It can cause sleep disturbances on its own. Our bodies grow on a rhythm, so it’s best to maintain a regular sleep schedule.”
Adhering to a predictable sleep routine is a healthy habit, but taking a short nap in the early afternoon can provide additional benefits. Older people may enjoy a nap after years of working long hours and not having the option to take a nap.
Several studies have shown that naps of 30 minutes or less can benefit cardiovascular health and cognitive function, Miner said. But that’s assuming you get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
“The ideal nap time is before 3pm,” she said. If a nap before bed might interfere with your night’s sleep, “I want to avoid nighttime naps between 7pm and 9pm, which we call the no-go zone.”
If you suffer from insomnia, a nap during the day may not help you get a good night’s sleep, and it can make matters worse. That’s because nap rest can exacerbate bedtime restlessness.
“Napping doesn’t help if you have trouble sleeping,” says Miner. They want to increase their chances of falling asleep at night “rather by avoiding naps and increasing sleep pressure.”
Now that you’ve graduated from a busy day at work, you have more options for how you spend your waking hours. Choose to have more rather than less social and physical engagement.
“Daytime activity is important for good sleep,” says Minor. “When I retire, I don’t want a sedentary lifestyle.”
Filling your day with goals and tasks will keep you busy and fulfilled as you head into retirement. Even better, it consumes energy. A diverse mix of stimulating activities, from exercise to socializing to volunteering, can recreate a faithful and meaningful day that leads to a peaceful, sleep-filled night.
People who have just retired tend to adjust well to their new schedule. You may feel liberated from the grueling work of the weekdays.
“People’s self-reported sleep appears to be improving after retirement,” said Adam Spira, Ph.D., a sleep researcher and professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. “If your job is less stressful, you may sleep better and possibly even get more sleep.”
Spira said seven to eight hours of sleep per night is optimal for people over the age of 65. Taking much more than eight hours a night is not ideal.
“More is not always better,” says Spira. “Long hours of sleep are linked to poor outcomes in older people.”
Risks of excessive sleep in older adults include cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. An elderly person who routinely sleeps more than 12 hours per 24-hour cycle may have an unexplained health problem or be experiencing side effects from medications.
“Many medications taken by older people can affect sleep patterns,” says Spira. “It can also affect cognitive function.”
He added that some retirees go to bed early and wake up early. Once you establish a new rhythm and adjust your body and brain to expect the new normal, it doesn’t matter.
“Some older people don’t like it at first because they feel like their sleep is out of sync,” says Spira. “But if you go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 5am, it’s okay if waking up so early feels weird at first.”
– Morley Stetner
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