Rise and Shine: Sleep’s Impact on Healthy Ageing 

Does your sleep pattern look like a dreamy Disney character, falling easily asleep and waking up fresh like a rose to the sounds of birds, or do you wake up feeling and looking Grumpy because you regularly wake up at night and find it difficult to fall back asleep? 

Has your sleep become less restful as you get older? Welcome to the club. When I chat with my clients, I often find that sleep optimisation can be a powerful yet often overlooked tool. And yet, prioritising sleep can truly be a game-changer when it comes to our health. 

Understanding Healthy Ageing 

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I think of healthy ageing as the process of maintaining not only our physical but also mental and emotional well-being as years go by so that we can keep enjoying life to its fullest. To do this, we need to address age-related changes and optimize lifestyle factors to promote our vitality and resilience. So, as we get older and hopefully wiser, our bodies undergo various physiological changes that can impact sleep, including alterations in hormone levels (perimenopause/menopause anyone?), metabolism (these jeans used to fit me…), and circadian rhythm (this jetlag is killing me..).  

The Importance of Sleep for Healthy Ageing 

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Quality sleep has a key role in healthy ageing. As an example, adequate sleep is critical for cognition,  immunity, hormonal balance, and cellular repair. In addition to this, studies have also shown that insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk of age-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease,  diabetes, and cognitive decline. Is that reason enough to get sleep at the top of our priorities?  

Sleep and Cognitive Health in Ageing 

Moreover, I find brain health complex and fascinating, and sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining our cognitive function and preserving brain health as we age, so listen up! Sleep is the perfect time for your brain to consolidate your memories, process information, and get rid of toxins accumulated throughout the day. It’s basically a full night of housekeeping. Unfortunately, chronic sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, have been associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. By prioritizing restorative sleep (I know,  easier said than done), we can enhance cognitive function and preserve mental acuity as we age. 

4 Tips to Get You Started 

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In order to improve both the quality and quantity of our sleep, we need to incorporate more mindful habits within our current lifestyle. Let’s start from the basics:  

  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule: yes, I know it may not always be possible and that’s ok. It’s what we do most of the time that makes a difference, not what we do every now and then. Try to go to sleep at the same time each night (or at least around the same time) most days, and wake up at the same time each morning. With any change that you want to apply in your life, start where you are at, then build on it. This will prevent you from getting stressed and overwhelmed by it. 
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine: this will be different from person to person. Maybe you would enjoy a hot bath before bed, or maybe you may want to read a book, meditate, take your make-up off or do a short relaxing yoga flow. Whatever that looks like, it needs to work for you and help your brain understand that it’s time to wind down.  
  • Stepping away from electronics one hour before bed: remember that blue light in the evening can impair melatonin production (your sleep hormone and a fabulous antioxidant too). Start where you can. Can you try stepping away from your phone/TV/screen 15 minutes before bedtime tonight?  Great, maybe slowly you will be able to build up to 30 minutes and 1 hour. I am currently managing 30  minutes, I do crosswords or read a book and I have to be honest, it has already made a difference.  
  • Optimizing your sleep environment: dim those lights in the evening and keep a dark bedroom at night (melatonin is produced in darkness). Make sure your bedroom is not too cold or too hot  (ideally 16-18c) and aim for a quiet environment unless you suffer from tinnitus, in which case you probably already use a sound machine/app.  

These are all essential strategies you can try out. Engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress effectively, and making dietary adjustments can also support healthy sleep patterns. And don’t forget that addressing underlying sleep disorders with the help of healthcare professionals can further improve sleep health in ageing adults. 

So tonight, start with a small change knowing you are building the foundation for a longer, healthier and happier life for yourself. 


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Written by

  • Valentina Cartago

    Valentina is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, trained at The Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London. She is a member of both BANT and CNHC. She is based in London where she runs her own practice The Italian Nutritionist, supporting her 1-1 clients and delivering corporate and community talks on various health topics both in person and online. Her background includes Head Nutritionist at LMS Wellness,where she worked alongside functional doctors and Clinical Nutritionist at the Hevolution Global Healthspan in Riyadh. She is fluent in both English and Italian.

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