Do you get into bed after a full day of activities, thinking you should be tired, only to find you are wide awake? Or, do you wake up before dawn, feeling fully awake and wishing you could simply fall back into dreamy sleep?
Almost half of adults 60 and older experience insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep, waking early and not being able to go back to sleep, or waking frequently. Keep in mind that people have different sleep needs, and getting less sleep is only a problem if it causes you to feel tired and unable to concentrate the next day.
Why do older adults commonly have sleep problems?
Sleep disruptions may be connected to the fact that as we age, our bodies make less melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Also, we may become more sensitive to noise. The most common reason older adults wake up during the night is the need to urinate. Heartburn, arthritis, menopause, stress, depression, anxiety, and pain can also disrupt sleep.
Not sleeping well can be more than just a nuisance--it can affect your quality of life. Ongoing poor nighttime sleep in older adults can cause depressed mood, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, and an increased risk for nighttime falls. Because sleep problems can have a big effect on health and quality of life, it’s important to take steps to solve sleep problems if they continue for more than a few weeks.
Are your habits helping or harming your sleep?
First, it helps to check your habits. You may be doing things that hijack good sleep, without even knowing it.
Do’s for good sleep:
Don’ts for good sleep:
Are medical issues affecting your sleep?
If changing your habits does not help your sleep, tell your doctor about your insomnia and ask if it could be caused by a health condition.
What treatments should you consider?
If your doctor rules out medicine or health issues as the cause of your insomnia, you may want to consider treatment.
Therapy. A type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy can help relieve ongoing insomnia. This therapy encourages good sleep habits and uses several methods such as relaxation and biofeedback to relieve sleep anxiety.
Medicines. Many prescription medicines are used to treat insomnia and re-establish a regular sleep schedule. Some are for short-term use, while others are meant for longer use. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and side effects of insomnia medicines. Older adults respond differently to medications than younger adults. Sleep medicines can have risky side effects in older adults, such as drowsiness and fatigue the next day, problems with attention and memory, and increased risk of falls. Some insomnia medicines can cause grogginess or impaired driving the morning after taking them.
Talk to your doctor before using any over-the-counter sleep products. Some people are tired and groggy the morning after taking them, and some people experience memory problems.
Alternative and complementary therapies. Some studies have shown there are benefits to using acupressure, tai chi, or yoga for improving sleep and reducing insomnia. Results are mixed for using acupuncture and the supplement L-tryptophan.
Aging Changes in Sleep, MedlinePlus:
Medicines for Sleep, MedlinePlus:
Patient Information: Insomnia Treatments (Beyond the Basics) UpToDate®:
Sleep and Aging, NIH Senior Health:
Sleep Changes in Older Adults, American Academy of Family Physicians:
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.