Getting Enough Sleep?

A lack of consistent, quality sleep—so needed for good health—is a widespread problem.   In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three adults in the U.S. say they do not get enough rest or sleep every day.

And according to the National Sleep Foundation, anyone over the age of 18 needs seven to nine hours of quality sleep every 24 hours to maintain good health.

Unfortunately, lack of sleep becomes more prevalent as we age. The most common reason is sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts–in some cases, as many as 100 times an hour.

Sleep apnea can be addressed with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, though depending on a variety of factors–everything from increased nasal congestion to feelings of claustrophobia–its efficacy may be lessened. Other therapies that can be effective include the use of a dental device when sleeping, implantation of a hypoglossal nerve stimulator, and weight loss.

With age, other medical conditions can develop that affect sleep. Men with prostatic hypertrophy–a benign, non-cancerous condition where an overgrowth of prostate tissue pushes against the urethra and the bladder, blocking the flow of urine–have fragmented sleep because of frequent bathroom visits. Heart disease treatment often requires diuretics that similarly disrupt sleep for bathroom visits. Multiple medications can cause insomnia as well.

Also worth considering is one’s circadian rhythm, which controls your sleep cycle as well as hunger level. As we age, the organs and organ systems responsible for maintaining the circadian rhythm tend to deteriorate, resulting in sleep disruptions.

In addition, regular schedules tend to fall away when a person retires from work. Most people have spent much of their adult lives getting up, going to work, coming home and spending their pre-bedtime hours in a fairly steady routine. When those schedules are eliminated, there is an increased tendency to catch a nap during the day, throwing off mealtimes and other activities that were previously consistent.

An older person may still be getting the recommended seven hours of sleep per day, but now by 30- or 60-minute increments. Or she may go to bed earlier than in the past: for example, at 9 p.m.-—which in this case means she’s up at 4 a.m.!

Anxiety and/or depression may also develop as we age: again, due at least in part to the lack of a regular schedule. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be useful in treating these and other conditions, at any age.

One of the best solutions to not having a set routine is, of course, to set a schedule! Physical activity is always important: perhaps going to a nearby community center each morning at approximately the same time to swim, play tennis, or just walk. Staying active can also have mental health benefits, as can simply being outside.

Other ideas include using extra pillows under your back or knees to combat aches and pains; getting a white-noise machine to help drown out exterior sounds; and skipping those midday naps. Scheduling a sleep study with a qualified specialist may provide additional options.

For those who are physically disabled, your physician will have exercise recommendations. There are also online resources, such as The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) website.

“Sleep is the best meditation,” the Dalai Lama once counseled. That may be true, but again only if you are getting consistent, quality sleep. If you have tried the above methods to improve your sleep and/or you have other questions and concerns, consult a sleep specialist–and look forward to getting some good rest!

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