Saturday, August 8, 2020

Restful Sleep: How to Get the Rest You Need

Sometimes it is hard to sleep, even if we're tired.
We all know we should get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, as we age it becomes more difficult for many people to fall asleep and stay asleep.  One of our neighbors, a recent widow, told us she often does not fall asleep until 3:00 in the morning.  Another friend of mine goes to bed by 11:00, but wakes up again around 4:00 a.m.  I often rise in the morning to find Facebook posts she made in the middle of the night.  She has frequently mentioned that she just cannot sleep through the night. I know other people with sleep problems, too.  Sometimes, national events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic or a major disaster, can cause people to have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sleep is such a big issue, that WebMD recently sent out several posts about how to get the rest you need.  Below are some of the suggestions I gleaned from their articles.

How Aging Can Affect Your Sleep

Sleep problems are common as we get older.  In fact, according to WebMD, more than half of people over the age of 65 have problems with sleep.  Here are some typical reasons:

1.  Pain - This includes a broad spectrum of issues including arthritis, back pain, GERD and other physical issues. You might find relief with over-the-counter pain relievers.  Physical therapy, massage, chiropractic treatments, and acupuncture are all non-invasive ways to manage your pain.  In some cases, surgery may help with specific issues.  Discuss your options with your doctor.

2. Neurological problems - These can cause restless sleep, erratic movements and agitation.  Sometimes they are a result of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's Disease.  Your doctor can treat some of these symptoms so you can get better rest during the night.

3.  Medication - If you are unsure why you are having trouble sleeping, discuss your medications, including over-the-counter ones, with your doctor or pharmacist.  Even medications you have taken for a long time may affect you more as you age.  Some medications you take, like certain cough medicines, can often make it harder for you to sleep.  Other culprits may be drugs for heart disease, high blood pressure, and thyroid problems.  Your doctor may suggest a different drug or change the dosage of your current medication.

4.  Waking Up to Pee During the Night - This is a very common problem and can disrupt your rest if you have difficulty falling back to sleep after using the bathroom.  You may want to limit the amount of liquids you consume after dinner, including anything containing alcohol or caffeine. Even something you are drinking to help you sleep, such as camomile tea, may cause you to wake up in the middle of night to pee.  Reducing or eliminating those substances may alleviate the problem. If not, your doctor may give you water pills or diuretics you can take early in the day so you eliminate excess urine.  There are other prescriptions drugs which can help, too.  Your first line of action, however, should be to simply eliminate the liquids you drink in the evening, and then see if more action needs to be taken.

5.  Menopause - Some women have trouble sleeping when they go through menopause and experience hot flashes during the night due to sudden surges of adrenaline.  Hormone therapy may help resolve this problem.

6.  Changes in your body rhythm - Your body may start to get tired earlier in the evening, causing you to also wake up earlier, or the opposite could be true.  You may have trouble falling asleep in the evening, causing you to stay up too late at night. Choose a consistent bedtime and ease into it with a relaxing evening routine such as reading, gentle yoga, or calming music.  (We love being able to ask our Echo Dot to play spa music.  It is a very easy way to relax.) (Ad)

7.  Sleep apnea or snoring - If you snore, seem to stop breathing during the night, or wake up tired even after a full night's sleep, you might ask your doctor to do a sleep study and determine if you have sleep apnea.  There are treatments.

8.  Restless Legs Syndrome - Sometimes your legs and/or arms may jerk or have strange sensations.  It is also called periodic limb movement or PLM.  About 20% of people over the age of 80 have it.  There are medications which can help you manage the symptoms.  (In my own experience, I used to get restless legs syndrome until I began to take magnesium and calcium supplements before bed.  However, the dosage can vary from person to person, there are side effects, and you should discuss any over-the-counter treatments with your physician.)(Ad)

9.  Mental and emotional problems - Some people have trouble sleeping because of depression. bipolar disorder, anxiety, and similar problems.  As I mentioned before, a neighbor of mine began to have trouble sleeping because of her grief.  Whether these problems affect your sleep or not, you may want to discuss these issues with your doctor and get the therapy or medication they recommend. 

10.  Long daytime naps - Although a short nap in the afternoon may make you feel rested and restore your energy, naps which are too long could make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.  You may need to experiment with skipping the nap in order to sleep better at night, or set an alarm before your nap so you limit it to about 30 minutes.

11.  Heart problems - Atrial fibrillation (AFib), angina, shortness of breath and other symptoms of heart disease can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.  Discuss your symptoms with your doctor, because heart problems can be dangerous if left untreated.

More Ways to Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep

Regardless of why you are having trouble sleeping, there are a few actions you can take on your own which may help.

1.  Make a to-do list - Some people find themselves thinking of everything they need to do, the minute their head hits the pillow.  Make a to-do list, either on paper or your phone.  List everything you need to do the next day, and then set it aside.  You will no longer have to worry over these things, which could make it easier to relax and rest.

2.  Put aside your electronic devices, including your smart phone, as early in the evening as possible.  If you do use them, use the "nightshift" or "blue light" filter on your devices so they will be less disruptive in the evening. 

3.  Drink less alcohol, or none at all, especially in the evening - Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but as it wears off it can cause you to wake up after just a few hours of sleep.  If you have trouble sleeping at night, or you wake up in the middle of the night, it might help if you stop drinking alcoholic beverages in the evening.

4.  Drink less caffeine during the day - There is caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and some over-the-counter pain medications.  Caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep, and cause your sleep to be more restless.  You should not drink anything with caffeine in it after lunch, because it can stay in your system for as long as eight hours.

5.  Have a relaxing bedtime ritual and try to stick to the same bedtime every night.  Your evening ritual could include a warm shower (but don't go to bed with damp hair), a few minutes of yoga, meditation, listening to spa music, or deep breathing.  If you live in a noisy neighborhood, you might try sleeping with earplugs, turning on a fan, or getting a white noise machine.  (Ad)  You may also try setting your bedroom temperature low.  WebMD suggests setting the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees at night.  

6.  If you wake up during the night, try deep breathing.  One system is called 5-7-8.  Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale slowly for 8 seconds.  Pause, and repeat until you simply doze off.  Another technique is to count backwards from 100.  Anesthesiologists have used this technique for decades when they ask people to count backwards while they administered anesthesia. You can also try progressive relaxation. Tighten and relax different groups of muscles while taking slow deep breaths.  Start at your toes and work your way up through your legs, stomach, back, arms, etc.  You will feel more relaxed.

7.  If you decide to get up because you are having trouble sleeping, try doing something quiet and boring ... read something dull or listen to soothing music. Don't pick up a book that is a real page-turner. Don't do anything productive or that will keep you busy.  Do not cook, clean, answer emails, or post on Facebook or Twitter.

If you try all of the above suggestions and still have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor and be honest about all your habits, over-the-counter medications, and anything else which could be affecting your sleep.

If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues as you age, where to retire, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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1 comment:

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