Solving Sleep Problems: Our Guide to What Works

Post Date: June 2015

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:

  • Do establish a consistent bedtime routine that makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Some people read a book, have a light snack, or soak in a warm bath.
  • Do go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Do get exercise or physical activity every day--exercise helps many older adults sleep better; preferably at least 3-4 hours before bedtime

Don’ts for good sleep:

  • Don’t take daytime naps longer than about 20 minutes
  • Don’t consume caffeine during the 8 hours before bedtime
  • Don’t use nicotine and alcohol in the evening. Alcohol might help you fall asleep initially, but it will probably make you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t spend much time using devices with light-emitting screens (laptops, tablets, smartphones, eBooks) before bedtime
  • Don’t lie in bed for a long time trying to go to sleep. After 20-30 minutes of trying to sleep, get up and do something quiet for a while in a different room, such as reading or listening to quiet music. Then try again to fall asleep in bed.

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.

  • Check with your doctor or Rite Aid Pharmacist to find out if any of your medicines could be keeping you awake at night. Medicines that can disrupt sleep include antidepressants, beta-blockers, and heart drugs.
  • Ask your doctor for help if pain or other health problems keep you awake.

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.

Sources

Aging Changes in Sleep, MedlinePlus:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004018.htm

Medicines for Sleep, MedlinePlus:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000758.htm

Patient Information: Insomnia Treatments (Beyond the Basics) UpToDate®:

http://www.uptodate.com/contents/insomnia-treatments-beyond-the-basics?source=see_link

Sleep and Aging, NIH Senior Health:

http://nihseniorhealth.gov/sleepandaging/aboutsleep/01.html

Sleep Changes in Older Adults, American Academy of Family Physicians:

http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/seniors/staying-healthy/sleep-changes-in-older-adults.printerview.all.html


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.