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Senior Health and Sleeping Well

Everyone appreciates a good night's sleep.   It is essential to good health and quality of life, and it can make a big difference in how you feel!   Our sleep patterns change over our lifetime, with children and adolescents needing more sleep than adults.   Older adults seem to need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults---seven to nine hours per night.   Unfortunately, many of us get less sleep than we need.

One reason we don't get enough sleep is that we often have trouble falling asleep.   In a study of adults over 65, it was found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women take longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep.   Also, as we age, we sleep less deeply and we wake up more often.   Another factoid:   Many older adults get to sleep earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.

So why do we care if we are not getting enough sleep?   The National Institute of Health reports that older adults who experience poor nighttime sleep (naps during the day don't count!) are more likely to have depressed moods, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls, and use more prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids.

The National Institute on Aging has a few suggestions to help you get a good night's sleep.

  • Stick to a schedule:   Go to sleep and get up at the same times, even on weekends.   This keeps your internal rhythms in line.
  • Try not to nap:   This makes you less sleepy at night.
  • Exercise at regular times every day: Exercising helps you sleep more soundly.   Try to finish your exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Get natural light in the afternoon, every day.
  • Watch what you eat and drink: Don't drink caffeinated beverages late in the day.   And if you like a late snack, try a warm beverage and a few crackers.
  • Avoid using alcohol and/or cigarettes to help you sleep:   Even small amounts of alcohol can make it harder to stay asleep.   And the nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant.
  • Start a bedtime routine :   Do the same things every night to train your body that it is time to go to sleep.   Watch the news, read a book, or take a warm bath!
  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping:   Give yourself about 15 minutes to get to sleep.   If you are not drowsy, get out of bed!   Go back to bed when you get sleepy.
  • Don't worry about getting to sleep:   Some people can't get to sleep if they feel that they have to get to sleep right now .   Distract your mind by playing a mental game……this is why people "count sheep" to get to sleep.   It works!

The National Institute of Health suggests that on-going problems with sleep should be investigated .   If you are so tired during the day that you cannot function normally and if this lasts for more than 2-3 weeks, you should see your family doctor or a sleep disorders specialist.

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