As we age, getting a good night’s sleep can be more elusive. Common sleep problems such as sleep apnea and insomnia occur with greater frequency as we age. This can make it difficult to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Because sleep is necessary for heart health, blood sugar regulation, stress management, and immune system support, sleep deprivation can lead to a host of bad outcomes. “People need to understand that sleep is an important tool for our overall health,” says Dr. Robert Karman, CMG-ULP Sleep Division Director at UofL Health.
Sleep issues in older adults can be attributed to many causes, including sleep disorders, medication side effects, depression, lack of activity, or excessive caffeine consumption too close to bedtime. “If sleep issues cause a disruption in your social schedule, your mental cognition, or prevents you from engaging in other medical needs such as attending appointments or therapy, it could be a problem,” Dr. Karman says.
Solution 1: Set Yourself Up for Sleep Success
There are things you can do to ensure you’re inviting good sleep into your life. First, establish a sleep plan. “Make sleep a priority, and develop a pragmatic plan that will work for you,” Dr. Karman advises. Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. “If you nap, be sure that it is less than one hour, and take it in the morning or early afternoon to ensure that the nap does not impact your circadian rhythm,” Dr. Karman says. Second, exercise each day, but avoid strenuous activity within three hours of bedtime. Third, get bright sunshine during the day and limit exposure to light, including TV and computer screens, in the hour before bedtime. Light can delay the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycle.
Solution 2: Diagnosis and Treatment
Consult your doctor if sleep issues become problematic. “Your primary care physician should do a medicine review,” Dr. Karman says. “Many times, medicines have side effects that cause sleep problems. Also, they should assess if there are other medical issues such as pain, thyroid issues, frequent urination, or diabetes causing sleep problems. If no medicine or medical cause can be found, you should seek a primary sleep disorder assessment.” If a sleep disorder is diagnosed, one effective treatment option is cognitive behavioral therapy. “This treatment reprograms your brain to get better and deeper sleep consistently and works better than any medicine,” Dr. Karman says. While sleep medications are available, consult with your doctor about them as many have adverse side effects.
By Tami Pyles
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