People are creatures of habit. We tend to engage in similar routines on a daily basis. When we get up and brush our teeth. What we choose to wear and eat for breakfast. How we drive to work. What time we break for lunch. Which television programs we choose to watch at night. And so on...
But can trusted habits make for a better night's sleep?
It appears so, at least when it comes to older adults. According to a new study just published in the journal Sleep, keeping a daily routine may be associated with a reduced rate of insomnia and improved quality of sleep.
The study was performed on residents of an Israeli retirement community whose mean age was 75. Mind you, this is an age when many people have trouble sleeping due to the negative effects of health conditions and/or medications that can disrupt sound, restful sleep. The fact that these people could experience better sleep just by maintaining regular routines throughout the day is significant: it's relatively easy to work on keeping a daily routine for the purposes of enhancing one's quality of sleep when compared to other options like drugs or therapy.
I'm not surprised by this latest finding. Consider the following:
- The body loves routines. Each one of us maintains a circadian rhythm that dictates our sleep-wake cycles. This rhythm clocks our biological days and takes cues from light and darkness.
- Routines tend to be calming and expected. They help us hit cruise control so our bodies can operate efficiently without much "thought" or input from us. As noted by the researchers, routine lifestyle rhythms may serve as a protective factor contributing to the maintenance of high-quality sleep.
We all know what it's like when our bodies fall out of synch with our normal routine. We can feel "off," and either overly alert when it's time for bed or exhausted long before bedtime. Look no further than the last time you traveled across time zones and struggled with your sleep, and with feeling refreshed during the daylight hours to understand this.
I don't think this latest study should be a lesson for those in retirement homes. It's for all of us -- at any age. Ask yourself:
- Do you tend to engage in the same activities (eating, working, exercising, etc.) at the same times on most days of the week?
- Do you get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time most days of the week?
- Do you have an established routine for preparing to go to bed?
If you answered "no" to any of the above, and you don't consider yourself a sound sleeper, then you may want to re-examine your overall daily routine -- or lack thereof.
Routines aren't ruts. They can be gateways to great sleep.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
This article on better sleep routines is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog by Sleep Doctor Michael Breus, PhD.
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