Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Getting a Good Night's Sleep
As we age, many of us find it is harder to fall asleep. We may awaken more frequently during the night, and have a tougher time getting back to sleep.
Studies show us that seniors have less Stage III and IV deep sleep and fewer episodes of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, when dreaming occurs. As a result, we may find ourselves feeling tired, discouraged, and depressed after a series of 'sleepless' nights.
The good news is that there are several things you can do — starting tonight — to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep and your functioning during the day.
Creating a Good Environment for Sleep
Heavy curtains or drapes can shield your sleeping area from unwanted noise or light. If soundproofing is difficult, consider a sleep machine that provides soothing sounds that help lull you to sleep.
If you have a clock radio or clock with a bright digital display, turn the light away from your eyes. Consider a new mattress or pillow. A few cents per night spent on a good mattress and pillow can be an excellent investment.
Dedicate your bedroom to two activities only — sleep and sex. Move that widescreen TV to another room. Leave your books, knitting, to-do list outside the bedroom. Your brain needs to associate walking into the bedroom with rest and sleep.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
When you enter the bedroom, turn off the mental tape for tomorrow's plans. Endlessly revisiting the next day's concerns impinges on your time and place of rest.
Worrying at night is unproductive and even self-destructive, but many of us have a hard time breaking out of the pattern. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can make you aware of bad habits, and help you practice more productive, sleep-inducing habits.
Reduce Your Stimulants
If caffeine sensitivity is a concern, eliminate caffeinated coffee or teas after noontime. Recent studies indicate that caffeine's detrimental effect on sleep can last longer than previously thought.
Read labels, and remember that there is caffeine in Coke, Dr. Pepper, Iced Tea, Snapple flavored teas, and many other beverages. Chocolate is loaded with caffeine, so reduce or stay away from it in the evening.
Health Issues and Sleep
If you get up at night to urinate, consider not drinking beverages for a couple of hours before bedtime. This is a characteristic problem for men with enlarged prostates.
A variety of other conditions can also interfere with sleep, including arthritis, emphysema, and heart disease. Ask your physician for ways to make sleep easier if you have these conditions.
Many older individuals suffer from sleep apnea. This breathing interruption disorder is particularly prevalent among the overweight. Sleep apnea is easily diagnosed in a sleep lab, and there is an effective treatment that uses a small mask and pressurized air. Another sleep-disturbing condition is Restless Legs Syndrome, in which individuals have involuntary leg movements during the night.
A number of studies now show that cognitive behavioral therapy is a more effective treatment for insomnia than medication. This therapy begins with many of the techniques described above to optimize your sleep environment.
It is also recommended that you go to sleep and wake up at the same or nearly the same time every day. If you can't fall asleep after 30 minutes of trying, you should leave the bedroom, then return in 30 minutes.
Sleep therapists also teach relaxation and meditation techniques to prepare the mind and body for sleep.
Medications in a Pinch
If you are desperate to break the insomnia cycle, a sleeping pill can be a reasonable option. But don't reach for antihistamine-heavy, over-the-counter sleep aids that will leave you feeling groggy the next day.
Prescription medications are preferred, and come in short, intermediate and long-lasting versions such as Sonata, Ambien, and Lunesta. Stay away from long-acting agents like Restoril. Rozerem is meant for those who have a hard time falling asleep but do not awake frequently.
Finally, don't give up trying! With a little planning, practice, and perseverance, you should be able to find the solution and begin enjoying the daily benefits of a good night's sleep.
Dr. Edward L. Schneider heads the largest private center for research and education on aging, the Andrus Gerontology Center of the University of Southern California. He also serves as Dean Emeritus of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and Professor of Medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Schneider has written or co-written twelve books, including Ageless: Take Control of Your Age & Stay Youthful for Life, and published more than 180 scientific articles on topics related to aging.