Sleep and Aging

7-9 hours a nightI was always told that the older you got the less sleep you needed.  Well, I find I am needing as much, if not more, than I did 20 years ago!  In fact, older adults need about the same amount of sleep as all adults – 7 to 9 hours each night.  However, there is large number of older people how struggle to get a decent night’s sleep.

There are many reasons for this.  It could be due to illnesses or, as in my case, being in pain can make it hard to sleep. Some medications can keep you awake. No matter the reason, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, the next day you may:

  • Be irritable
  • Have memory problems or be forgetful
  • Feel depressed
  • Have more falls or accidents

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Insomnia – difficulty falling and/or staying asleep

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder found amongst the over 60’s.  Suffers normally have trouble falling asleep and then staying asleep.  Insomnia can last for days, months or even years.  The main problems are:

  • Take a long time to fall asleep
  • Wake up several times throughout the night
  • Wake up early and unable to return to sleep
  • Wake up still feeling tired
  • Feel sleepy throughout the day.

Many people worry about getting to sleep which in turn makes it harder to actually fall asleep and stay asleep.  It becomes habit forming.

There are several over the counter aids to sleeping available and of course there are prescription medicines.  The problem with these is that they are short term cures and will not cure insomnia.  The only way to do this is to develop healthy habits at bedtime.

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To Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting older does not mean that you must go around feeling tired all the time or are not able to get a good night’s sleep.  Here are a few good ideas and habits to get into:

  • Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends or when you are traveling.
  • Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, if you can. Naps may keep you awake at night.
  • Develop a bedtime routine. Take time to relax before bedtime each night. Some people read a book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a warm bath.
  • Try not to watch television or use your computer, mobile phone, or tablet in the bedroom. The light from these devices may make it difficult for you to fall asleep. And alarming or unsettling shows or movies, like horror movies, may keep you awake.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, not too hot or too cold, and as quiet as possible.
  • Use low lighting in the evenings and as you prepare for bed.
  • Exercise at regular times each day but not within 3 hours of your bedtime.
  • Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime—they can keep you awake.
  • Stay away from caffeine late in the day. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate) can keep you awake.
  • Remember—alcohol won’t help you sleep. Even small amounts make it harder to stay asleep.

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Counting Sheep!

There several other tricks to help bring on sleep and I don’t just mean counting sheep.  In fact, the last time I tried to count sheep I lost one and couldn’t sleep because of the worry!

Some count slowly to 100, I count from 100 to 0.  Some try mental arithmetic or other mental games to try and make themselves sleepy.  Another way that I have used to great success is to slowly relax the whole body.  Start by relaxing the toes, then the feet, ankles and legs in turn.  Work your way up through the body towards the head.  I rarely reached the head!

If after 20 minutes of turning off the light you are still wide awake, do not stay in bed.  Get up and do something around the house.  When you start to feel sleepy return the bedroom.

If all else fails – go and speak to your Doctor.  They may be able to refer you to a sleep clinic for assessment and assistant.

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Acknowledgement:  Thanks to the National Institute on Aging, US Department of Health and Human Services for the graphics.

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