Chronic insomnia is bad for your health. It’s a risk factor in heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 90% of people with insomnia also have another health problem.
NORMAL SLEEP CYCLE
The normal sleep cycle includes dreamless periods of both light and deep sleep, inter-spaced with some periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). This sleep cycle repeats several times during the night.
SLEEP PATTERNS CHANGE AS WE AGE
The older we get, the harder it may be to fall asleep. We tend to sleep more lightly and wake up more frequently—often three or four times a night. Less time is spent in the deep, dreamless sleep cycles.
ADDITIONAL CAUSES MAY INCLUDE:
• A need to urinate several times during the night
• Discomfort or pain from chronic illness
• Depression and/or anxiety
• Other sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea
• Side effects of medication
• Napping during the day
WHAT YOU CAN DO
• Take a light bedtime snack with warm milk, which contains a sedative-like protein.
• Avoid stimulants (coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate) 3 or 4 hours before bed.
• Limit water drinking a couple of hours before bedtime.
• Do not nap during the day.
• Exercise (moderately) in the afternoon.
• Avoid over-stimulation (violent TV shows or books) before bedtime.
• Practice relaxation techniques at bedtime.
• Go to bed at the same time every night; wake up at the same time in the morning.
• Use your bed only for sleep or sex.
• Don’t smoke, especially before going to bed.
• Avoid alcohol at bedtime. It may make you sleepy at first, but wake you up later at night.
WHEN TO CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR
• If your depression and/or anxiety are chronic. (You could have a treatable illness.)
• If medications (prescription or over-the-counter) could be affecting your sleep.
• If you have an additional sleep disorder, such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea.
• If the need to urinate several times nightly doesn’t respond to drinking less water before bedtime.
• If your insomnia is not relieved by consistent, serious efforts on your part.
Consult your doctor before taking any sleep medications. People over 55 may react differently to medicines than younger adults. Some sleep medicines can lead to addiction, or may cause you to experience effects such as confusion, delirium, and falling if taken over a long period of time.
For more information:
• sleepfoundation.org - Aging and sleep
• ncbi.nim.nih.gov - Chronic insomnia
• healthysleep.med.harvard.edu - Sleep cycles
• sleepfoundation.org - Sleep patterns
• webmd.com - Coping with sleep loss
• nhlbi.nih.gov - Sleep apnea
• ninds.nih.gov - Restless leg syndrome