THE AGING FACTOR
"Age is something that doesn't matter,
unless you are a cheese."
"Old age is always fifteen years older than I am."
Bernard M. Baruch
"The only people who really adore being young
are the middle aged."
"Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be
born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen."
"Age is a question of mind over matter.
If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
Well - we're all aging - that's a fact.
From the minute we're born, we're "off and aging!"
While we constantly change as we do this "aging" throughout our lives, you may have noticed that "aging" past 45 or 50 does have an effect on your sleep patterns and sleep ability.
AS WE AGE
It seems we need less sleep as we age -
even if we don't FEEL as though that's true -
even if we feel as though we're not getting enough sleep - turns out most of us need less.
That's nice - if only we could enjoy it!
The average daily sleep time for someone in his/her sixties drops from 7 1/2 or 8 hours down to seven hours. And the average daily sleep time for someone in his/her seventies drops further, down to six hours. Yet still we retain our individuality, of course - so you may indeed need to sleep ten hours - and don't let anyone tell you differently!
As we age, sleep becomes shallower. We have less hours of deep sleep and more hours of light sleep - which is why we're more easily awakened in the night by noise or other disturbances - like a full bladder. (We know that one well!)
And insomnia can still be a nasty problem - especially if it becomes more frequent and entrenched. More than half of people over age 65 report problems with sleep. (And most over-the-counter sleep preparations are sold to folks over 65.)
CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR
Even though it may seem "natural" to have trouble with sleep at an older age, it's important to review all possible health related issues with your doctor to rule out or treat medical problem, some of which could be serious.
Also, as we get older, medications have more of an effect on us. If you're taking medication for any condition, you may want to review the side effects with your doctor so, if necessary, he can switch you to a different, less disturbing medication.
If there are no clear medical reasons for the sleep problem, check out your weight and tendency to vegetate. If you've put on the pounds and rarely exercise - that's surely part of your problem right there.
Simply increasing the amount you walk or move about may well make a difference for you. Better yet, get out there and be vigorous about it.
Join an exercise group, swim, hike, bike, garden -
whatever it takes to move the body and keep it slim and trim (as much as possible) will make a difference in your sleep ability.
Exercise is something that we require no matter how old we are - even if we're bedridden. Some form of exercise, stretching or physical movement is essential to maintaining optimum bodily functioning throughout life.
In short, you're never too old - and rarely too sick - to exercise! In fact, just ten minutes ago I was reading an article about how people at age 100 can increase their muscle tone (a very important element in keeping us young and active) by doing weight-bearing exercises.
So, be sure to get out there and MOVE THE BOD!
HOW INTERESTED ARE YOU?
You want to be sure to keep up your interests and passions throughout your life. The more active and involved you are, the more tired you're likely to be at the end of the day. Don't "give up on life" and just sit around waiting to get old. Get out there and "live" - every day that God gives you! It will help you to sleep.
DON'T LINGER IN BED
This can get you onto the wrong schedule entirely. You stay in bed late, so of course you're not sleepy at night - so you have trouble falling alseep, then you sleep late the next morning - and there you are, with an upside down schedule.
Rise early so you can pack alot of activitiy into your day and end up good and tired by nighttime.
Don't go to bed too early either or you'll end up "upside down" again, wanting to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning. Best to set your schedule so you go to bed tired at an appropriate time in the evening.
Naps are fine if they don't keep you from sleeping at night. Best to keep them under an hour and to be finished with your nap by 4 pm.
(We do find that a short nap can be most helpful - even just five minutes helps to renew us...)
If you are approaching, are in or past Menopause you may well be having trouble sleeping. The hormones that once helped you to sleep have been reduced as a natural function of aging. You might consider HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), a treatment that should be discussed carefully with your doctor, as it has some downside as well as an excellent upside. It does seem that many women find relief from the symptoms of menopause, including sleeplessness, once they are on HRT.
GET ALL THE HELP YOU CAN GET FOR YOUR EMOTIONAL LIFE
Life is full of pain and sorrow. This will not be news to you. But what's important is to be sure to give yourself all the help, support and comfort you can get as you deal with the inevitable problems of life at the later stage. Do activities and join groups that will help you to make new friends.
Maintain a support system for yourself. Find a sympathetic, supportive counselor - perhaps a friend, neighbor or minister.
If appropriate, find a therapist to help you with the issues you face. It's no longer "smart" or "admirable" to "grin and bear it" - suffering in silence. No, no, no! Get yourself whatever help you need to get through your problems and issues - so that, again, you can enjoy every single minute that God gives you!
More and more, scientists are recognizing the importance and prevalence of depression in older people. Life can be so hard and there can be many losses as we age. It's understandable that we may not be as cheerful as we once were - or wish we were. In addition, there are many physical factors involved - it's not "all-in-the'head."
The good news is that depression in the over 60 population is highly treatable through both medication and counselling. We urge you to be sure to get the help you need, if this could possibly be an issue for you. Don't let any kind of truly old-fashioned, out-of-date bugaboo keep you from getting relief from your pain. We all should aim to enjoy every minute of our lives that we can. Don't put off getting the help you need.
For more information, go to ABOUT SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP.
DO NOT TAKE TO DRINK TO SELF-MEDICATE FOR DEPRESSION!!
Alcohol is not a good solution for insomnia - for anyone - at any age.
While it may SEEM to be helpful, alcohol actually disturbs normal sleep patterns and ultimately requires you to take more and more - all of which can turn you into an alcoholic - while not addressing the underlying sleep problem effectively at all!
Don't get hooked into this very poor, very WRONG "solution!"
Be warned: It's not a solution AT ALL!
If you have recently suffered the loss of a partner, be sure you get all the help you need to deal with your grief and mourning - so that you can move on to finding meaning and pleasure in life once again. You might want to check out our HELP WITH GRIEF & MOURNING segment.
EAT PLENTY OF CALCIUM
which is good for your bones - and therefore important - and good for calming you down and making you sleepy. (So take one of your calcium pills at night, after dinner, to maximize the calming factor.)
Foods that contain lots of calcium are:
Dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
Leafy green veggies
For more information about what to eat or drink to help you sleep, check out our segment on EDIBLE & DRINKABLE REMEDIES.
AVOID ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES!
They may seem to make you sleepy but really they can be disruptive of sleep patterns once you've fallen asleep and thereby prevent you from getting a fully restful night's sleep. iSleepless.Com strongly recommends against using alcohol as a remedy for insomnia.
Smoking stimulates the nervous system.
If you must smoke try to cut down on the amount - and try to have your last cigarette of the day at least two hours before going to bed.
If you'd like help kicking the habit, there are many books and programs available - surf the web or call 1-800-LUNG-USA and they will send you some literature.
ACCEPT THAT YOU MAY AWAKEN MORE OFTEN IN THE NIGHT.
And prepare for that. Have activities you can do that give you pleasure. Keep the materials handy, not far from your bed.
You may find many helpful suggestions within our 99 REMEDIES, as well as suggestions for things to do when you're stuck awake at night, under COPING ACTIVITIES.
A NICE WARM BATH
How about a nice warm soak in the tub before bed? The immersion in a warm tub is decidedly soothing and calming and appears to have an effect on the brain that facilitates deeper sleep. And if you do this on a regular basis it helps to set your circadian rhythm so that you're properly tired when you get into bed.
Add some fragrant bath salts or oil - or make it a bubble bath.
Lavender, rose, cedarwood and jasmine are all lovely fragrances that are also calming to the soul.
Review with your doctor appropriate pain medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetamenophen, etc., that can be quite effective. (We also take glucosamine & condroitan - they seem to help tremendously.)
A hot bath (or shower) can be truly helpful for the pain and stiffness of arthritis.
Stretching helps - as does movement throughout the day - and EXERCISE! Once again, we say, MOVE THAT BOD! Check with your doctor or physical therapist to work out a sensible regimen for yourself. Walking, biking, swimming and low-impact aerobics are all good possibilities.
Keep moving during the day to keep the joints loosened up. Get up from your chair or desk and move about to avoid or help stiff joints. And shift around often when seated.
Being overweight can add to your misery - it puts extra stress on your joints. This is yet ONE MORE REASON to TAKE OFF THAT EXTRA WEIGHT!
Wear cushiony shoes to help soften the impact on your joints when you walk. (And comfortable shoes help make you WANT to walk and move about.)
Emotional stress can add to your pain and discomfort. Treat your stress to help your pain. (You might want to check out our segment on STRESSSED?! )
Use an ice pack (for 20 minutes) on an inflamed joint.
Keep an eye out for special new products that help people with arthritis to function: toothbrushes, can openers, eating utensils - even shoelaces!
Check out the Arthritis Foundation at 1-800-283-7800 or www.arthritis.org.
If you have been suffering from insomnia and you're a coffee drinker - or a cola or tea drinker - here is one of the most effective remedies for you: Cut down on your caffeine intake without delay. In fact, if you've been suffering from insomnia, it's best to avoid caffeine altogether once you've finished breakfast. That means no coffee, tea, cocoa or cola for the rest of the day - after breakfast.
Some experts advise stopping after lunchtime but as caffeine stays in the system for a long time we believe that stopping after breakfast is most effective.
Cutting out caffeine after breakfast is especially important for older people, as it takes longer for an older body to rid itself of caffeine. If you're able to do this, you might be surprised by how much it will help your sleep ability.
You might also find relief by cutting down on your breakfast consumption of caffeine. You can do this quite painlessly by preparing your coffee with at least half decaffeinated grounds.
In our household, we make great coffee using fresh-ground gourmet beans, 50% decaffeinated mixed with 50% regular. We have recently learned that this is now called going "schizo" in coffee houses! (We like it...)
CUT DOWN OR CUT OUT?
We do not necessarily recommend that you go "cold turkey" on caffeine or cease all consumption. Some recent studies have indicated there are decided benefits (both physical and psychological) to caffeine when taken in moderate amounts.
If you do decide to cut out caffeine consumption, it's best to do it slowly, reducing intake over the course of at least a week or ten days, to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms (such as a "killer" headache).
CHOCO-HOLIC? COLA DRINKER?
If you're a choco-holic and suffering from insomnia, you should cut down on your onsumption of chocolate. It contains caffeine too. Ditto cola drinks.
We know a fellow who had a stubborn sleep problem for years and years. Neither he, nor his doctor, nor his therapist, could figure it out - until a friend made a comment about his habit of sipping cola all day long. (That stuff can be sneaky.)
Don't eat a large, greasy or spicy meal just before retiring.
Indigestion and stomach upset do disrupt sleep. A light snack, though, is fine - assuming you can afford the calories. Of course it's hard to sleep on an empty stomach. As with most things in life, MODERATION is best.
ONE OF THE BEST AIDS
- to sleeping well is to establish and maintain a regular daily routine. That is, getting up at the same time every morning, and going to bed at the same time every night - as regular as clock-work.
This kind of regular body-habit helps to set your circadian rhythm - (that is your body's natural internal operating system) - so that you automatically become tired at night.
You can reinforce this pattern by developing your own little rituals to do as you prepare for bed. Human beings are creatures of habit. So the more regular you are with performing your nightly rituals, the more they will help your system prepare to go to sleep in a timely manner.
For instance, if every night at 10:30 you cover the bird cage, check the locks on the doors, wind the grandfather clock in the hall, take a bubble bath, read a chapter in your book and turn out the light - then doing that simple list of activities each night at approximately the same time, cues your body to wind down and get sleepy.
REGULAR BED TIME ROUTINE
Once you've established your routine, you might find your eyelids getting heavy as you start your bedtime rituals. If not, you might try adding more rituals or elongating the ones you have. For some people who have trouble falling asleep, going to bed 15 minutes or half an hour later helps them get to sleep more quickly.
Establishing this regular nightly routine helps many people get to sleep at night.
SETTING YOUR INTERNAL RHYTHM
Rising in the morning at the same time each day, engaging in morning exercise along with a healthful, nutritious breakfast AND getting outdoors into the sunlight (a key factor), all help to set your circadian (natural, internal) rhythm.
A SLEEP DIARY
Here's something you can do that can help you understand the root of your sleep problem better - keep a sleep diary. Before you go to bed each night, make a note of what you did that day, what problems you encountered in your life - and how you felt about them - what sort of interactions you had with people, what you ate and drank, when you ate it and drank it, what you did in the evening and what you did before going to bed.
In the morning, note how the night went. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Keep this diary for at least ten days or two weeks and see what patterns show up. Perhaps you're having most of your trouble sleeping on nights when you've had a difficult day at the office - or at home - or with relatives or your in-laws. Or nights when you've had a large, greasy steak for dinner. Or maybe you're drinking too much coffee - or too much cola.
We know a fellow who had a stubborn sleep problem for years and neither he, nor his doctor, nor his therapist, could figure it out - until a friend made a comment about his habit of sipping cola all day long.
Your sleep diary can tell you a lot if you will take the time and trouble to note all the details - even things that don't seem important at the time - like sipping cola throughout the day.
A website for seniors with lots of good stuff on it.
Another excellent website for seniors with links to hundreds of other helpful sites.
It's important to maintain good health - body health and emotional health. A major cause of insomnia is stress and/or anxiety - both common components of modern life. Take care of the issues that cause you stress or anxiety and your insomnia will probably lesson - or even disappear. Of course that sounds a great deal simpler than it is. But in general, one should address emotional issues as seriously and professionally as one addresses physical issues. We have more about stress and anxiety in our section on Emotional Issues.
LEADING A GOOD LIFE
Leading a busy, full and satisfying life is one of the best defenses against insomnia. It stands to reason that people who feel productive and reasonably happy, are less likely to suffer from insomnia than those who are dealing with difficult situations or other problems. If you are having difficulty creating a life that works for you - a life that feels good and satisfying and pleasurable - you might want to look at the personal issues that keep you from achieving these goals. You may want to consider getting professional help so that you can achieve your own personal goals.
About Seeking Professional Help.
MAINTAINING GOOD HEALTH
Basically what you want to do - what all of us ought to do - is maintain good physical/mental health - because they're both part of one interacting system - it's not just your body or just your mind - it's both together in one interacting system.
And maintaining that system in optimum shape is key to leading a satisfying, healthy and productive life. That's why it's important to eat right and do enough exercise or physical labor to maintain your body in healthy condition. This also aids in getting you truly tired before you go to sleep.
A healthful diet, proper exercise & hygiene - all of these help you to maintain a healthy body. And a healthy body helps you in every aspect of your life.
If you are not physically healthy, or are in physical pain, that can keep you awake quite a number of hours. Of course if you have a medical condition that's giving you pain and you haven't sought medical treatment yet, is it any wonder that you're lying awake suffering? Try to remedy your pain or discomfort as best you can, as soon as you can - and of course consult a doctor in the morning - or immediately, if appropriate.
THE BODY AND MODERN LIFE
The human body was not designed to drive around in a car all day or sit and watch tv hour after hour; it is not designed to be sedentary but quite the opposite - we're intended to be sleek and efficient in our movements - to have musculature that aids us in hunting and planting and carrying our progeny about. If you've allowed your body to get fat and flabby, you have let a magnificent piece of machinery go to pot - and that may well be contributing to your sleep problems.
The good news is, it's rarely too late to regenerate that machine into good working order.
They say the ditch-digger sleeps soundly. No doubt there's truth to that - as you know if you've ever dug ditches - or cleaned out the garage in a day - or done any other physical labor for several hours.
Physical exercise is also good if you're tense or stressed or all wound up from something exciting or uplifting. Exercise helps you to relax and unwind - as well as to maintain good health.
HARD WORK & SLEEP
We know many Russian immigrants who are bright, educated people who have come to this new land where they are unable to practice the professions they knew for all their lives.
They have many, many practical problems. Many of them must do various forms of physical labor - such as delivering newspapers, caring for children or even house cleaning - instead of the white-collar or high-level professional jobs they had back in the old country. Yet most have no trouble sleeping! It seems that the hard work they do insures that they sleep every minute they can.
There's a lesson in that for some of us fat-cat Americans who live the soft life and then have trouble falling asleep!
WAKING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
If your problem is not so much falling asleep at night but awakening in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep, you might try any of our 99 REMEDIES that seem appropriate, once you're awake.
HAVING TO PEE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
You should limit the amount of liquid you drink a few hours before bedtime so that you lessen the need to wake up to urinate.
The need to urinate in the middle of the night, while certainly normal for many, may be a sign of various medical conditions - from prostrate cancer to elevated blood sugar or diebetes - another reason to check with your doctor if you're having trouble sleeping. These are serious conditions that require medical treatment and should not be left untreated.
Awakening before you've completed your sleep needs can be a sign of depression or anxiety and if the problem persists it should be addressed by an appropriate professional.
GET OUT OF BED AND BE PRODUCTIVE
Once you've been awake in the middle of the night for more than 20 or 30 minutes, it's best to get out of bed and try to do something productive.
Once you get yourself involved in an activity you'll probably find that eventually you'll get tired again and can return to sleep. We present many possible activities in the segment called COPING ACTIVITIES.
You should also consider other issues, such as:
Is your weight appropriate - or are you too heavy?
Are you too sedentary, or inactive?
What else is going on in your life?
Are there issues that are upsetting you? - issues that you could be working on to resolve?
We hope you will find effective suggestions for help within our program.
Now why not start with RELAXATION BREATHING?
Or, with this poem by William Butler Yeats:
WHEN YOU ARE OLD
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
We wish you sweet dreams!
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