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Sleep problems can range from the very mild to the very severe, but one thing we know is that age plays a huge role in exacerbating these issues. For seniors who struggle to find restful sleep every single night, there may be things you can do right now to improve your sleep quality and quantity. On the other hand, some sleep issues may require you seek out a medical opinion.
What is causing my sleep problems?
The hard truth is that there are dozens and dozens of things that can contribute to poor sleep. Bad diet, lack of exercise, stress and environmental factors can cause you to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. These contributors can be modified and improved through at-home lifestyle remediation. Other medical conditions such as allergies, acid reflux and chronic neck and back pain can also disrupt sleep. Doctors can help with these by prescribing medication and/or scheduling rehabilitation.
Often, sleep problems can be the result of something serious like sleep apnea, a condition that, if left untreated, can cause a myriad of other health problems. A little less often, your sleep disturbances can be the result of a condition like Restless Leg Syndrome or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. If your sleep problems are severe and you think something like this may be to blame, you should seek out a medical opinion. You should know that Medicare will pay for necessary sleep studies if ordered by a doctor and can help pay for a few months of CPAP therapy, if needed.
What can I do right now, at home, to help?
Whether you plan to see a doctor for your sleep problems or not, you should consider tweaking your daily life and home environment to better facilitate quality sleep. Here are some proven ways to do that:
Charge your smart devices outside. You don’t want to be tempted to stare at your phone, tablet, or even your laptop before you fall asleep. In fact, you should reduce screen time altogether in the hours leading up to bedtime. Studies have found that the blue light emitted by these devices reduces melatonin production, which can adversely affect sleep quality.
Don’t eat or drink anything in the two hours before you go to bed for obvious reasons.
Let the sunshine in. Open up your curtains, blinds and windows. Spend more time outside in the sunlight. Studies show that more natural light exposure during the daytime leads to better sleep at nighttime. It’s all tied to our circadian rhythms - if all your brain “sees” is darkness during the day, it gets confused when you try to turn it off at night.
Focus on relieving stress. When you experience stress, your brain signals the production of a compound called cortisol. Excess cortisol has been linked to adverse effects in many bodily systems including sleep. Getting rid of stress is often easier said than done, but there are techniques you should try.
Turn down the thermostat. As we age, our bodies get worse at regulating temperature. Long story short, you have a greater risk of overheating during sleep and thus disrupting it. A cooler environment usually means better sleep. In fact, the optimal sleep temperature is said to be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Seniors - maybe more than anyone else - should do everything they can to improve the quality of their sleep. Whether that’s through lifestyle changes, medical treatment or a combination of the two, focusing on getting more restful sleep is vital. Good sleep improves mood, helps stave off depression, anxiety and other mental issues, and gives our body systems a boost. There is no such thing as aging gracefully without proper sleep.