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Chasing Z’s – Identifying and Dealing with Sleep Problems

Regardless of your age, gender, or ethnicity, getting enough sleep is a vitally important component of a healthy and happy life.  Unfortunately, up to 40% of seniors either have difficulty falling asleep or wake up frequently in the night. Moreover, when these seniors do actually sleep, their rest is usually both more fitful and less restorative than that of younger people.  In some cases, their daytime fatigue may be so overwhelming that they find it difficult to drive or participate in other normal activities. Many of those who are suffering from sleep difficulties simply shrug it off, subscribing to the belief that they just don’t need as much sleep as younger people.  However, this is not true. Although infants and children who are still growing do need more sleep than adults, research has found that both young adults and the elderly require between seven and nine hours of good-quality sleep every night for optimal health. At Village Park Senior Living, we strive to help our residents get the most out of their retirement, so here are answers to some of your questions about sleep difficulties.

“WHY CAN’T I GET TO SLEEP?”

Perhaps the most significant difficulty in dealing with sleep problems is determining their cause.  In some cases, it may be a natural consequence of the aging process. As we get older, our sleep cycles get shorter, meaning that older people tend to wake up more frequently during the night and spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep.  Our circadian rhythms also shift, so older people will often become sleepier in the early evening and wake earlier in the morning compared to younger adults. Additionally, many seniors suffer from physiological problems that directly interrupt the sleep cycle, like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or restless leg syndrome (RLS).  Certain medical conditions common among older patients, like hypertension, COPD, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and immune disorders have all been associated with sleep problems and disorders as well. Finally, psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and dementia also increase the risk of insomnia.  If you are having difficulty sleeping on a regular basis, discuss your symptoms in detail with your physician so that they can properly diagnose the exact cause, and determine what treatment options are available.

“HOW CAN I SLEEP BETTER?”

While identifying and treating the underlying medical conditions responsible for your sleep problems is most likely the best way to restore a normal, restful sleep cycle, there are also some healthy lifestyle tips that can help promote good sleep as well.  Try to avoid large meals shortly before bedtime, and avoid stimulants such as caffeine after mid-afternoon. Make it a point to get regular exercise early in the day, which is one of the many amenities available at Village Park.  It can be particularly helpful to get into a routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.  Do not take naps and use the bed only for sleep or sexual activity. Most importantly, only use sedatives as a last resort, and then only after you have discussed it with your doctor. Many of the medications that make people sleepy react poorly with other medications and can have a detrimental effect on brain function, in both the short-term and long-term, which can be especially problematic in older patients.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, being older does not necessarily mean that you have to settle for a less restful night’s sleep.  Getting an adequate amount of good quality sleep helps maintain brain health, physical health, and mood. It may be one of the keys to living your best life at Corso Atlanta.  For more special interest stories and informative articles about topics of interest to seniors and our community, check out our weekly blog and follow us on Facebook to get the latest news and updates.