People complain about a litany of problems as they grow older, including everything from reduced vision to joint pain. However, one of the hardest things to get used to is difficulty falling asleep at night, a problem many seniors face. As your body ages, the brain produces less melatonin, which causes you to sleep less. Health issues and spatial disruptions may inhibit the ability to get a sound night’s sleep. It can become a serious problem when depression, failing memory, attention problems, difficulty concentrating and falls result. Seniors may need to find creative ways to get to sleep at night so that sleep deprivation doesn’t become a threat to their overall health.
Wind down at night
People often make the mistake of jumping into bed without any transition from the day’s activities, which can lead to restlessness and contribute to other sleep-related issues. Try instituting a “wind-down” period before hitting the sack each night. Take an hour or two before bedtime to sit quietly and reflect on the day; perhaps spend the time meditating or listening to calming music. Anything that will slow your heart rate before bed will help you get to sleep. Turn off all electronic devices, put the smartphone away, and read a book until your eyelids start to get droopy.
Observe a regular bedtime
Sometimes, getting into a regular bedtime routine can help facilitate the transition to sleep at night. Try getting to bed at the same time every night, and rise at about the same time each morning so you establish a sleep rhythm your body gets used to. Make sure you stick to your sleep regimen even on weekends so a day or two doesn’t throw you off. Elderly individuals often like to take a nice long nap in the afternoon. Try to avoid this, because it will make it harder to maintain a steady bedtime.
Soak in the tub
Sitting in a nice warm bath is a time-honored sleep strategy, a way of manipulating your body temperature. The warmth of the water is relaxing, and when you emerge, the sudden drop in body temperature slows your metabolism and makes you feel sleepy. Try adding an element of aromatherapy by including eucalyptus- or lavender-scented bath oil, or whatever you find most appealing.
A good sleep environment is essential to restful sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, loud noises and bright light aren’t going to help. Your bedroom should be completely dark and kept at a temperature of 72 degrees or lower, with complete quiet. Turn off the TV and computer so the blue light emitted by screens doesn’t inhibit your ability to get to sleep. If exterior light is a problem, try blackout curtains. Don’t force it. If you’re having trouble sleeping after about 15 minutes, get back up and sit quietly for a while until you feel sleepy.
Reduce your fluid intake after dinner and try drinking nothing within a couple hours of bedtime to reduce bathroom visits, which can keep you awake. In particular, avoid alcohol or anything with caffeine. If you’re a coffee drinker during the day, consider weaning yourself off the hard stuff, and try decaffeinated coffee instead. It’s easier on your heart, and switching can help mitigate a chronic sleep problem.
Sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder and restless leg syndrome are common sleep-related problems that may aggravate an inability to sleep. There are medical treatments for these conditions, and Medicare coverage extends to “medically necessary” testing that tracks eye movements, leg movements, respiratory and pulse rate, and other indicators. Additionally, Medicare B may cover certain sleep tests and devices ordered by a physician to help diagnose sleep apnea.
Sleeplessness may increase as you age, but that doesn’t mean you have to get used to it. If you’re unable to come up with a sleep strategy that works for you, consult a physician. Medical testing may be necessary to diagnose the problem.
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