Sleep better, no matter your age
A good night’s sleep is just a dream for many seniors, but wakeful nights don’t have to be part of aging. For many older adults, simple lifestyle changes are all that’s needed to improve slumber.
Forty-four percent of seniors have insomnia symptoms several nights a week or more, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Nearly 40 percent of sleeping pills are prescribed to older people, even though they represent less than 20 percent of the population, the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation reports.
The body isn’t programmed to produce insomnia during one’s senior years, the experts say. Sleep patterns change more in the early to middle phases of life than later on. Aging does bring greater potential for lung and heart ailments, chronic pain, depression, and dementia – all of which may interfere with sleeping. But even people with those conditions should not assume insomnia has to be a way of life.
If you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. She will ask many questions, including:
- How long has the problem been occurring?
- Do you drink coffee, tea, or alcohol and at what times?
- Are you taking over-the-counter sleep medications?
- Do you nap during the day?
- Do you snore, gasp, or have leg restlessness in your sleep?
- Are you experiencing high levels of anxiety, worry, or sadness?
Your doctor may recommend altering lifestyle habits that can affect sleep. Experts with the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation and the National Institutes of Health suggest the following:
- Don’t nap during the day.
- Avoid coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, or other items with caffeine for at least four hours before bedtime. Don’t drink alcohol before going to bed; while it causes drowsiness, it also can cause you to wake up later on during the night.
- Use the bed solely for sleeping or intimacy; don’t make it a place to watch television or snack.
- Get up and go to bed at the same times every day. If sleep doesn’t come within 20 minutes of turning in, get out of bed and read or listen to music. Repeat this if another 20 minutes passes without falling asleep.
- Exercise moderately if possible, but do so in the middle of the day.
If your physician prescribes sleeping pills, follow the directions carefully to be sure you use them safely. Taking them several days in a row or more than a few times a week can make sleep problems worse.
A good night’s sleep is one of life’s great pleasures and essential to optimum physical and mental health. If you are experiencing insomnia, take steps to address the problem so you can make the most of each day – and night.
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