AS WE AGE: Nurse in the know: It’s a myth older people need less sleep
Q: I am 80 years old and have noticed that I am not sleeping as I used to. Can you tell me why this is?
A: There is a myth out there that as we age we require less sleep. As outlined in the Mayo Clinic Plan for Healthy Aging, your need for sleep remains fairly constant, but your actual sleep patterns may change.
It is common for seniors to struggle with getting a good night’s rest. This may be due to the fact that you have a harder time in falling asleep or remaining asleep and that you sleep less soundly. When you wake up you may not feel as rested.
Altered sleep patterns can also be caused by chronic pain, digestive problems, depression, anxiety and stress. Certain medical conditions may lead to frequent nightly trips to the bathroom (e.g. diabetes, enlarged prostate). Medications such as antidepressants, bronchodilators, high blood pressure pills, and steroids can also disturb sleep. Also, a snoring partner can disrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Q; What can I do to get a better night’s sleep?
A: There are a number of steps seniors can take to help minimize their sleeping problems.
• Limit nap time to 15 to 30 minutes per day. If you nap too long it will disturb your normal sleep rhythm.
• Reduce interruptions
• Close the door
• Use soothing music to create a subtle background noise to drown out other noise
• Face the digital clock away from you to reduce light
• Drink less before bedtime – minimizes the trips to the bathroom
• Ask a snoring partner to seek medical help
• Be mindful that pets that sleep with you can disrupt your sleep
• Create a restful environment
• Maintain a comfortable room temperature
• Select right mattress, pillows and sheets
• Use the bedroom for relaxing activities
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule
• Keep regular sleeping/waking routine
• Avoid substances that can keep you awake
—Caffeine beverages (coffee, soft drinks, cocoa
—Alcohol (initially can make you sleepy, but can increase wakefulness during the night)
• Exercise daily
—Ensure that you have a routine and stick to it (walking, stretch bands, cycling, weights, etc)
—Do not exercise too close to your bedtime (about 5 hours prior)
• Relax gradually prior to getting into bed
• Have a warm shower or bath
• Read or watch TV until a little drowsy
—Select your TV programs wisely (no scary movies, distressing newscasts)
• Use caution with medications
• Talk with a health care professional about sleeping pills as they may interfere with other medications
• Ask the professional whether your medications may be causing sleep problems
If you continue to have problems with sleeping keep a sleep journal. You can include such things as the use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and your medications, exercise (type and time), lifestyle changes, and recent stresses. Make an appointment with your physician and take this information with you. Please note that sleeping poorly isn’t an expectation of aging.
• Wendy J. Scott (RN, BScN, MA) is owner and director of human resources of Nurse Next Door’s Burnaby/New Westminster/TriCities office. Reach her at 604-268-6262 or email@example.com.