Insomnia and Aging

Are You Having a Sleep Crisis?



Getting regular, restful sleep is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Inadequate sleep has been connected with everything from depression to decreased alertness, and recent research at the University of Chicago indicates that it may adversely affect your metabolism. And that, the experts say, can lead to weight gain and even diabetes.

People in every age group know about the usual reasons for insomnia – too much stress, too much caffeine. But insomnia is more common among older people for a number of age-specific reasons as well.   You may wake up in the middle of the night because you’re now more sensitive to noise, or you might be more inactive than you used to be and so are not tired enough to sleep well. Taking a daily nap may also be a factor. And you can be kept awake by medicines for conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, allergies, asthma, pain and depression.

But whatever the cause of your insomnia, it’s fairly easy to figure out whether you’re in the midst of a sleep crisis.  If your sleeplessness isn’t connected to a specific stressful event, if it’s gone on for a few weeks, or if it’s interfering with your daily life, it’s time to go to the doctor. The nonprofit National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggests keeping a record of your sleep and fatigue patterns to bring to your health care practitioner. Make sure your physician has an up-to-date list of all the medicines, vitamins, herbs and supplements you’re taking. If you feel your case is severe enough, you might want to consider a sleep specialist who can talk to you in depth about the problem – and even observe you overnight in a sleep center if necessary.

However, if you think your case is more annoying than debilitating, there are a number of steps you can take to help yourself get a good night’s sleep: *Make your bedroom a haven. Keep it at a relatively cool and comfortable temperature. Don’t use it for anything except sleeping and having sex. *Avoid watching TV in the bedroom just before you retire for the night. Even the 11 p.m. news can be upsetting with its tales of war and violence. Focus on positive, peaceful thoughts. *Activity during the day can help you sleep at bedtime, but exercise in the evening will overstimulate you and make it impossible to fall asleep. Better to get your exercise in before dinner. *Remember that you can adjust your environment to make it more conducive to sleep: A white-noise machine or a soothing CD can drown out unwanted sounds, and heavier curtains can block any street light coming in. If you need a nightlight but find the glare distracting, get the kind that turns on only when you walk near it.  *Avoid caffeine; depending on how much it affects you, you might want to stop drinking caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon. *Don’t overeat in the evening, and if you want a snack before bedtime, go for something light like a small nonfat yogurt. If you lie down too soon after eating heavy food, you could be letting yourself in for some unwelcome heartburn that will keep you awake. For more information, visit the CDC’s update on sleep disorders.              
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