Sleep in the Golden Years

If you toss and turn at night because you just can’t seem to fall asleep, you’re not alone. Sleep research has proven that it’s not as simple when you’re 70 to fall asleep as it was when you were 30.  Despite what your friends might say about sleeplessness being a part of aging, we’re here to tell you that it is possible to improve your sleeping patterns and get more shut-eye! 

The Better Sleep Council estimates that one out of every two seniors suffers from sleep deprivation, and the debilitating and dangerous side effects of daytime drowsiness. But older adults require the same seven to nine hours of restful sleep as the current group of 18-29 year olds.

Research shows that both older and younger people consume massive amounts of caffeine and both may associate their beds with activities that are not conducive to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation warns, “Poor sleep habits may have become entrenched” we may associate our beds with television or reading, not sleeping.” In addition, just as young adults frequently devalue the need for sleep, often putting off rest in favor of work or late-night leisure activities such as the Internet, the elderly - even those who still work and stay active - sometimes decide that because they use less energy they need less sleep.

The Challenge of Getting a Good Night’s Sleep:

As the body ages, its circadian rhythm or internal sleep regulator changes. This makes older people wake up at 5 a.m. and get tired in the afternoon. The need for seven to nine hours of sleep however, does not change. Unfortunately, those hours become spread out throughout the day, so that by the time 9 o’clock rolls around you’ve already spent your “sleep allowance” sitting in a chair during daylight hours rather than lying comfortably in bed at night.

Even resting quietly in bed can prove to be a challenge. If you have arthritis or other medical conditions your sleep will definitely suffer. If your room is completely silent, you may have difficult falling asleep because of outside noises - cars passing, dogs barking, the house settling. You may be troubled by depression, a common problem in older Americans. If you are married your partner may be keeping you awake through snoring or other chronic conditions. Your sensitivity to heat and cold may affect your comfort level as well.


What's Your Sleep Quotient?

For every condition met, add or subtract the appropriate number from your score.

Drink more than two caffeinated beverages per day? -10
Stick to a regular sleep schedule? +5
Have recently lost a spouse or partner? -15
Are troubled by financial worries? -15
Take more than three prescription medications? -5
Have recently moved in with children or into new house/retirement community? -3
Regularly fall asleep with the TV on -10
Take frequent naps during the day (more than 30 minutes)? -20
Smoke more than three cigarettes per day? -12
Drink more than three alcoholic beverages per day? -12
Do not regularly exercise? -20
Maintain an active lifestyle? +20
Watch TV rather than read? -10
Engage in new activities, go out and meet new people? +15
Travel frequently and thus suffer jet lag? +15

Have any of the following: arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, incontinence, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, gastro esophageal reflux (GER), Nocturnal Cardiac Ischemia, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, congestive heart failure or Peripheral Vascular disease?

For Every Disease

Remain isolated, stay at home, even though perfectly healthy? -10
Maintain close friendships/family ties? +10
Have an uncomfortable or old mattress? -5

NOTE: This is not a scientific test, or a diagnosis chart that replaces the advice of your doctor. It's just an exercise to make you aware of the factors that may be affecting your sleep.
The lower your score is, the more disturbed your sleep is.


Improving the Quality of Sleep

1.   Use your brain during the day: balance a checkbook, do crossword puzzles, paint, read the newspaper.

2.   Stay active – continue to do the things you enjoy, especially physical activities, such as golf.

3.   Go outside – sunlight elevates your mood and the vitamin E in your skin, making you healthier and happier when you do fall asleep.

4.   Don't isolate yourself. The lonelier you are the more likely you are to have trouble sleeping.

5.   If you smoke remember that tobacco is a stimulant. Consider cutting down or quitting altogether.

6.   Try not to drink alcohol before bedtime.

7.   Limit your caffeine intake. Remember tea, soda and chocolate can all keep you awake.

8.   Check your prescription medications for side effects such as hyper-alertness, insomnia and anxiety.

9.   Talk to your doctor about ways you can keep any medical conditions from disturbing your sleep.

10. Consider taking up meditation or relaxation techniques. Your local community or senior center probably offers meditation and yoga classes.

11. Limit naps during the day to no more than 30 minutes. But if you feel drowsy and like you absolutely can't stay awake, then listen to your body.

12. Establish a regular routine – have preset times for going to bed and getting up.

13. Check your bedroom for any potential problems – an old and infirm mattress, a lack of good air conditions or heating, a T.V. in the bedroom can all be problematic.

14. Double-check your mattress. If you can't remember when you bought it, it may be time for a new one.

15. Make sure your partner doesn't have sleep problems such as snoring, sleep apnea or other conditions that can keep you awake.