Help. I Can’t Fall Asleep At Night!

You are not alone.  Study done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine recently published showed that 1 in 4 Americans experience acute insomnia defined as “difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for as little as three nights per week for at least two consecutive weeks up to three months.”  Good news is that 75% do recover without their condition becoming persistent or chronic.  Many believe that as we grow older, we need less sleep and that our difficulty falling a asleep is a normal part of ageing.  It is not.  Survey has shown that seniors over 65 who are active and engaged gets about 7-9 hours sleep each night.  Here are some of the causes of insomnia and what you can do.

  • For many seniors, a good night sleep is often interrupted by an underlying medical conditions including incontinence(need for frequent urination), Alzheimers’s, asthma, heart failure, and many others.  Some seniors suffering from chronic pain (like arthritis) will also have problems falling asleep.  However, insomnia can be a sign of something serious and you should consult your doctor if it persists.  
  • Sometimes the medication that you are taking can affect your sleep.  You can ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects or drug interactions that may cause insomnia.
  • Another common cause of insomnia is related to mental health – including stress and emotional/mood disorder.  Being depressed or anxious will prevent a good night sleep.  Major life changes is normally the cause for seniors.
  • Insomnia may be simply due to sleep disorders like sleep apnea where you actually stop breathing for up to a few minutes when you are sleeping.  The lack of oxygen will then cause you to wake up – and this can repeat many times throughout the night.  You will need to see your doctor if this happens.

Here are some sensible advice that you can try immediately.  Remember, 75% of those with insomnia recover – that is the good news.

  • Most obvious first step is to evaluate your sleep habits.  Good sleep habits include limiting daytime naps, avoiding sleeping at irregular hours and activities such as watching TV or working your smartphone in bed.  
  • Watch what you eat and drink before you go to bed.  Too much fluids may cause you to urinate several times at night.  Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided for obvious reasons.  Heavy or spicy meals can cause indigestion.
  • Regular exercise is a great way to avoid insomnia.  Your workout will tire you more and helps you sleep better.  Exercise also has the benefit of improving your mood as well.
  • Even if your doctor prescribes you sleep medication, use them sparingly.  Most sleep medication can be addictive and the more you use it, the less effective it gets without increasing the dosage.  This is not a good thing.
  • If you are already seeing your doctor about insomnia, you may ask to do a sleep study – sleep tests that record the body’s activity during sleep to get a clearer picture of your entire sleep cycle (or lack thereof).

You should know that insomnia is not normal  and you should seek help if you regularly cannot sleep.  Just do not chalk it up as simply getting old!

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