Why is sleep so elusive?

Do you often feel irritable and foggy the next day after a poor night’s sleep? Most of us do, however long-term sleep deprivation can have more serious effects on our body including memory issues and depression.

As we age, it appears we sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans. The question is, is this a normal part of aging or are there medical problems that are commonly found as we age?

Nevertheless, how much sleep do we need? The Global Council on Brain Health recommends 7 to 8 hours of sleep. They also state clearly that as we age it is normal for sleep to change as we age however having poor sleep quality is not normal.

While sleep medication might seem like the answer however research has shown it can actually lead to further sleep disturbances. These medications can also affect negatively your cognition. So, let’s go through some other ways that we can potentially improve our sleep quality instead:

1: Get your physician involved. Make sure they know of your decreased sleep quality and treat any diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions such as pain, urinary tract infections, and prostate issues. Make sure they address other physical difficulties such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and heart failure.

2: Get exposure to natural light. Sit near large windows during the day or if the weather is good to go outside.

3: It cannot be stated enough that regular physical exercise for at least 30 minutes a day will promote not only good sleep but overall better health.

4: Join activity programs in a community for purposeful engagement to discourage the daytime napping.

5: Avoid alcohol and large meals as bedtime approaches. Caffeine is suggested to be avoided as early as right after lunch.

6: If you do need a nap limit it to 30 minutes and set an alarm oversleeping sleeping.

7: Make sure to use the rest room just before bed, even if you feel like you do not need to go.

8: Use other methods to relax before bed such as a warm shower or bath, breathing exercises, meditation or listening to soothing music.

9: Limit screen time before bed. Studies have proven that white light interferes with the REM of sleep. Sometimes electronics have a night shift setting which can help reduce this or shut them off at least an hour before you actually go to sleep.

10: Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day seven days a week.

11: Restrict Fluids 3 hours prior to bedtime to avoid those rest room trips in the middle of the night.

12: If you do need to get up at night avoid turning on your white lights however for safety use amber colored or blue colored night lights.

13: Maintain a bedroom temperature that is comfortable to promote falling and staying asleep. Wear socks to bed if your feet are commonly cold.

14: There are other non-prescription alternatives such as melatonin, valerian root and chamomile. As with any prescription or non-prescription medication, it is best to consult with your health care professional or pharmacist to make sure there are no known interactions with your current medication regime.

So in summary, the need for sleep does not change as we age. Sleep’s structure and duration both quality and quantity go through significant changes as stated by AARP’s Global Council of Brain Health.  We still need 7 to 8 hours throughout the night to maintain good physical and cognitive health. However, since our sleep is more easily interrupted we may need to put more effort into maintaining good sleep and lifestyle habits that promote the restorative benefits of sleep.

Have questions about the information in this article? Click here to find and contact a local Hearth community near you to learn more!

By: Janet L. Haynes, RN VP of Clinical Services

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