Insomnia is NOT Inevitable As You Age
Our sleeping patterns do change as we age, but having a disturbed or restless sleep and then waking up feeling tired everyday is not a normal part of aging. Troubled sleep may be a sign of emotional or physical disorders and you can talk with your physician about some solutions to these problems.
It is the quality of sleep not the quantity that often changes so dramatically as a person ages. Many people accept insomnia as a fact of aging. Sleeping difficulties are absolutely NOT a part of normal aging. No matter what your age, deep and restorative sleep is an essential part of physical, emotional and mental health.
We will discuss some of the most common causes associated with insomnia for seniors (or almost seniors). There are many lifestyle changes that you can make that will help you get the deep, restorative sleep so crucial to your healthy longevity.
Common Causes of Insomnia
Medications – Some medications can negatively impact your ability to sleep. They can create restlessness, anxiety or even stimulate wakefulness. Talk with your doctor (or health professional) about the possible side effects of any of your medications.
Medical Conditions – Some medical illnesses can also affect the quality of your sleep. Symptoms of certain conditions may cause you to awaken frequently or to have difficulty falling asleep. Some of these conditions include: arthritis, osteoporosis, menopause, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS. If it’s pain that is causing your sleeping difficulties, you may want to research alternative therapies for pain management. (Acupuncture, Massage, a Naturopath’s advice etc.)
Poor Sleep Habits -- If there is no consistency around when you go to bed and when you wake up, this irregular pattern can affect your sleep. Too much alcohol, eating too close to going to bed or too many daytime naps can also negatively affect your sleep schedule, resulting in insomnia. (These kinds of activities are referred to as ‘sleep hygiene habits.’)
Habits of Inactivity – If you aren’t getting enough exercise everyday, you will increase your likelihood of having to cope with insomnia. It is common that older people can become more sedentary and that will not only affect your sleeping, but it will impact your overall health. Just simply walking during the day can be extremely helpful.
Stress – Psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression can also really cause insomnia. Death of a loved one, moving from the family home, physical problems because of illnesses – all these cause stress, and stress keeps you from a good night’s sleep. Talking about how you’re feeling and getting some support can really help with managing stressful emotions.
Sleep Disorders - Insomnia occurs more frequently in people who are older. Restless Leg Syndrome, Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy are some of the most common sleep disorders. Talk with your doctor or trusted health practitioner to find out what treatments are available.
Many sleep disturbances and sleep disorders can be vastly relieved with some simple lifestyle and behavioural changes. Here are some suggestions for taking some positive first steps towards having a deep and fulfilling night’s rest.
What To Do If You’re Having Trouble With Insomnia
- Get on a sleeping routine – Having a regular sleep schedule can really help your body learn when to expect sleep. Go to bed, as often as possible, at the same time every night. The same goes for the time that you wake up. Do this every day, including weekends, and train your body to sleep and wake well.
- Change your sleep environment to be dark, comfortable and quiet. The place where you sleep needs to be your oasis. Keep digital clocks (with those bright red displays) out of your immediate line of vision. Make your bed (and getting into your bed) as comfortable and easy as possible. How about a new and wonderful pillow? If you can’t have total quiet because of where you live, try earplugs. Make your bedroom primarily a place for sleeping (not for paying bills, working etc.) Dark. Quiet. Comfortable. 3 Keys!
- Get enough sunlight or bright light when you wake up. Sunlight or bright light will help your body regulate its melatonin levels. Melatonin is a brain chemical and if you don’t get enough sunlight or brightness of light during the day, your body will think it’s time to go to sleep. Not enough natural light keeps your body’s melatonin levels high and that keeps you drowsy.
- Start to slow down and relax for a while before bedtime. Create some relaxing bedtime rituals like reading, having a cup of herbal tea, listening to soothing music, taking a bath, or doing some calming breathing exercises or meditation. Start to tell your body that it’s time to slow down and get quiet and restful. Anything that gives you a peaceful feeling is going to make falling asleep easier.
- Eating and Bedtime – the good, the bad and the uglies. Don’t eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime; the indigestion can interrupt your sleeping pattern. (Do your best to eat at least 2 hours before going to bed.) Don’t drink too many fluids before bed, and limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. Some bedtime snacks and small drinks can help you sleep. Foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your brain produce serotonin, can help you relax and prevent insomnia. Tryptophan-rich foods include: turkey, milk, yogurt, tuna, cottage cheese and peanuts. Try a glass of warm milk or a piece of toast with peanut butter.
- Use a journal for your worries. Take some moments to write down all the things that are nagging away at your brain or are worrying your heart. Anxiety will make you more alert because it excites your nervous system. Don’t forget to write out some possible solutions to your concerns. Or try a ‘to do’ list so that you can put aside thinking about those unfinished things until tomorrow … when you can do something about them!
Do You Have Trouble Falling Back Asleep During the Night?
- Do a visualization exercise that is calming to you. Try imagining walking down a long beach or slowly walking downhill. Think about something repetitively – try a mantra of “Hello (your name)” over and over again. Make one up that works for you.
- Get out of bed. If you can’t get back to sleep, don’t stay in bed being wide awake. Get up and leave your room and do something relaxing until you become sleepy again. A lot of people keep themselves awake by worrying about falling asleep.
- Do not get up and then do something stimulating. Don’t watch the news and avoid commercials – too stimulating. Find a really boring book and make it your ‘get back to sleep’ book, and keep it in your living room.
- Don’t turn on the lights – that’ll get your brain thinking it’s time to wake up … and it’s not!
- Go get a tryptophan snack. Turkey, milk etc.
A full night’s sleep is going to give you a better quality of life. Sleeping deeply and soundly will help you age more gracefully AND be in a better mood while you’re doing it.
If none of these tips help you get that essential, restorative sleep, visit your doctor or health practitioner and get the help you need. There are many sleep specialists and sleep clinics that are having excellent results in treating all kinds of common insomnia disorders.
Insomnia IS NOT a normal part of aging. Let yourself get those crucial ZZZs.
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