A Good Night’s Sleep is Within Reach

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2010 14:03

By Peter Carrillo

A good night’s sleep is harder to come by as you grow older.

Although you used to be able to sleep for 12 hours at a time, doze soundly in an airline seat, or go from wide awake to dreamland in two minutes, those remarkable abilities may be long gone.

Now the good news: There are things you can do to help regain the restful and restorative sleep you need – which in turn, helps the body recharge its energy level and build its immune defenses.

First, let’s examine why you may not be sleeping as well as you did years ago.

Our sleep patterns and the quality of sleep almost always change as we age.  We can experience insomnia at night and some daytime sleepiness. These symptoms are often the result of poor lifelong sleep habits, although as we age the body actually needs less sleep.

When we were younger, going to bed at different times on different days was tolerable.  But as we become older, such inconsistency can cause troubling sleep disturbances.

In addition to changes caused by aging, there are other factors that can cause mild to severe changes in sleep patterns. Chronic pain, diabetes, depression, dementia, high stress, prolonged fatigue, Parkinson’s disease, and obsessive worry are among them.

The tips below may help you regain the sleep you are missing:

– Reserve your bed for sleep (OK, and sex). Don’t watch TV or listen to music in it.

– Keep your bedtime consistent.

– Avoid naps, but if you really need one use a timer set for 20 to 30 minutes.

– Keep alcohol use to a minimum. It may cause drowsiness at first, but it will interrupt your sleep several hours later.

– Don’t use stimulants such as caffeine (or nicotine) late in the day.

– Exercise regularly. A daily walk or swim can help you fall asleep more easily and generally have a more restful sleep.

– Take a warm bath or shower before you go to bed.  Two out of three people who do so sleep better and wake up more rested, a National Sleep Foundation study found.

It may take several days or longer to begin to sleep better, or get back to your normal pattern. But don’t worry if positive changes don’t come right away. At first you may sleep better for a day or so, then have a poor night, and so on.  Be patient.

Finally, a word about sleeping pills:

Doctors will sometimes prescribe sleep aids for patients they diagnose with insomnia. Although extended use is sometimes warranted in individual cases, these medications are not meant to be taken forever. Some have the potential to create dependence, and can cause daytime drowsiness and confusion among older patients.

Key advice for anyone experiencing insomnia, whether they are taking sleeping pills or not, is to do the basics: Reduce your stress, increase your daytime physical activity, and cut your use of alcohol and caffeine.

Sweet dreams.

Sonora resident Peter Carrillo is a longtime clinical health educator formerly with Kaiser Permanente.

© 2010 Friends and Neighbors

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2010 14:03