Submitted by Carol Tomlinson, RN BS
Community Health Educator
Sleep & Aging
We all look forward to a good night’s sleep. Sleep allows our body to rest and restore its energy levels. Without enough restful sleep, not only can we become irritable, but also inattentive and more prone to accidents. Like food and water, adequate sleep is essential to good health and quality of life.
Unfortunately, many older adults get less sleep than they need. One reason is that they often have more trouble falling asleep. In a recent study, NIH-Senior Health found that in adults over age 65, at least 36% take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
Additionally, older people often sleep less deeply and wake more often during the night. There are many possible explanations. As we age we may produce less melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. Chronic health conditions, and the medicines used to treat them, can also cause sleep problems.
Not sleeping well can lead to a number of other problems such as depressed mood, attention and memory issues, excessive daytime fatigue and more nighttime falls. Sleep patterns may change as we age but disturbed sleep and waking up tired daily is not part of normal aging.
According to NIH, simple lifestyle changes may relieve many sleep problems. Some of the changes that may help are to:
- Avoid substances that can cause sleep disturbances such as alcohol and caffeine, and don’t consume large amounts of fluids within 2 hours before sleep.
- Consult your physician or pharmacist for the best time to take prescription drugs so that sleep is not affected. Additionally, have over-the-counter (OTC) drugs checked to be sure they won’t cause sleep problems.
- Try to get some sunlight during the day and avoid long naps. If you need a nap, set an alarm for about 30 minutes.
- Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. It should be dark, well ventilated and as quiet as possible. Don’t use a TV or computer in your bedroom for at least 30 minutes before sleep. According to recent studies, these devices actually disturb your sleep/wake cycle.
- Adopt bedtime habits that signal your body to get ready for sleep. Such rituals as a warm bath, reading for 20-30 minutes, or writing in a gratitude journal are often helpful.
- Go to bed around the same time each night and get up the same time each morning. Changing times causes changes in your brain chemistry that can mimic jet lag.
If you are often tired during the day and don’t feel that you sleep well, you should discuss this with your health care provider. Make sure you inform him/her of all medications you are taking including OTC drugs. There are many things that can affect sleep. Your health care provider is your best resource to identify issues that may affect your particular sleep problem.
At Nathan Littauer Hospital, we have the area’s only sleep lab that can test and pinpoint sleep problems and recommend the most effective treatments. Remember, a good night’s sleep is essential to your physical and mental health and quality of life. Don’t take sleep problems lightly!
For more information, visit nihseniorhealth.gov, call Littauer’s Regional Sleep Disorders Center at 775-4000, or HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. You can e-mail us at email@example.com, see our website at nlh.org, or visit our NEW wellness center at 2 Colonial Court in downtown Johnstown, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.