Does your mind continue to work even after your head hits your pillow? In the dark, do you hear the clock ticking off the sleepless seconds? Are you thinking about what you need to do the next day or what you didn’t get accomplished before you went to bed, and you know you’re going to feel exhausted and hazy headed after the sun rises?
Getting the proper amount of sleep has many benefits, especially for older adults. Let’s examine why it is important, why older adults have challenges with sleep, and how to consistently get the sleep needed each night.
Why is Sleep Important?
Sleep not only refreshes you, it helps your body ward off illnesses and improves your cognitive function, including memory retention.
A lack of sleep can increase the risk of weight problems; make it harder to handle stress; increase anxiety, muscle and joint discomfort and muscle weakness; affect insulin production and make driving a car dangerous.
‘I Used to Sleep Like a Baby’
When people say they “sleep like a baby,” they really mean they sleep peacefully. However, as any parent of a newborn knows, babies don’t sleep deeply. As you age, you may experience the sensation of “sleeping like a baby” only because you wake up every two to three hours.
As we get older, our bodies produce less melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. Other things can cause sleeplessness, including:
- Diabetes and prostate issues (causing frequent urination)
- Congestive heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Sleep disorders like sleep apnea cause you to stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. This prevents you from getting the deep, restful sleep your body needs. Excessive snoring is a sign of this disorder.
- Restless leg syndrome, which is leg pain when sitting or lying down, causing your legs to move, making it harder to sleep.
- Periodic limb movement, which occurs when you kick your legs while asleep
The good news is sleep disorders can be diagnosed and treated. If you (or your bedmate) suspect you have one of these disorders, consult your physician.
Your physician can also tell you what medications or health problems may be keeping you awake, as well as how much sleep you should be getting. (Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is the usual recommendation.)
How Can You Get More “zzz’s”?
There are things you can do to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep, and things you shouldn’t do:
- Talk to your doctor if you have sleep problems
- Reduce alcohol consumption. (It may help you go to sleep, but the quality of the sleep will be reduced, and you may awake more frequently.)
- Stop smoking
- Avoid drinking caffeine 7 hours before bedtime
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day
- Be active each day, including exercise
- Have a pre-bed routine in preparation for bed
- Create a calm, cool, dark, quiet bedroom environment
- Self-medicate using over-the-counter sleep aids. You can’t use them long-term, and they also heighten the risk of a fall if you are extremely drowsy and get up
- Nap any longer than 20 minutes during the day
- Watch TV or eat in bed. Your bedroom is for sleeping
- Fight it. If you can’t go to sleep within 30 minutes of trying, go to another room and read or listen to music
Following these guidelines along with your doctor’s recommendation can help you improve the frequency in which you achieve a good night’s rest. Check out our blog for more tips on health and nutrition.