Sleep problems are not inevitable as you get older

October 19, 2017 - 9:17am

“To sleep, perchance to dream,” from Hamlet, is an elusive wish for a lot of you who are 65 or older. In fact, almost half of Americans over the age of 65 say that they have sleep troubles at least once a week, and 15 percent say it happens to
them three or more nights a week. Sleep disruption can include a hard time falling or staying asleep, waking too early and waking up feeling not rested.

What’s the cause of all this mid-night misery? According to newly released data from the University of Michigan/AARP National Poll on Healthy Aging, for 23 percent of folks ages 65 to 80, pain is what’s keeping them awake at night. Other sleep-busters include having to get up to go to the bathroom and stress or worry.

This is what keeps us up: The fact that most of the seniors surveyed thought insomnia was an inevitable part of aging, not a health problem, and very few bothered to talk to their doctor about their sleep issues.

What’s being done: To cope, 14 percent of those participating in the poll said that they take a prescription sleep medication, prescription pain medication, OTC sleep aid or herbal supplement.

Another 23 percent said they do so occasionally (usually an OTC sleep aid). The rest, we guess, just try to tough it out.

Well, poor nighttime sleep (whether from insomnia or a messed-up sleep cycle) is not an inevitable part of getting older. If you’re affected, talk with your doctor to determine the cause and find a solution. If left unaddressed, chronic sleep deprivation in older folks can lead to an increase in traffic accidents, memory problems, mood swings and falls. It also can make pain harder to handle, increase existing medical problems or disrupt management of those conditions.

Sleeplessness also is associated with depression, and it can upset your digestive system.

The Risks of Sleep Medications
Around 8 percent of older folks with insomnia take prescription sleep meds, even though they are not advised because of the damaging side effects: confusion, memory loss, falls and poor sleep quality. Even so-called natural alternatives such as melatonin, or PM pain relievers can trigger falls, constipation and confusion, and they don’t do all that much to improve quality sleep. In fact, the Beers Criteria — a guide to the use of medications for folks 65-plus — established by
the American Geriatrics Society, gives a strong warning against use of prescription sleep drugs. And the Food and Drug Administration does not recommend switching from prescription sleep meds to OTC sleep aids. Those often contain
diphenhydramine and doxylamine that can cause confusion, urinary retention and constipation.

The Solution
The best way for older folks (really, anyone!) to reverse chronic sleep problems is to use nonmedical techniques.

They can take some time; after all, a lot of sleep problems come from a lifetime of bad habits. But they work.
1. Practice good sleep hygiene:
—Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes or less.
—Reduce time spent in bed when not sleeping.
—Establish and maintain a regular sleep schedule.
—Establish a calm bedroom setting; no digital devices; no bright lights, only red light; maintain a comfortable temperature.
—Limit consumption of alcohol (it causes sleep fragmentation and REM disruption) and caffeine, particularly before bedtime.
—Eat a light snack before bed, but avoid heavy meals within two to three hours of bedtime.
2. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily and walk or do seated exercises as much and often as possible.
3. Make sure to get exposure to bright light or sunshine every morning to help your internal clock get on schedule.
4. Try aromatherapy. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that an essential oil mix of 90 percent lavender can help induce restful sleep. Use a diffuser that is set for 10 minutes on and 30 minutes off, over eight hours.
5. Try cognitive behavioral therapy to relieve stress and pain responses and learn new sleep habits.
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Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit
© 2017 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc

This column is sponsored by your local choice for healthy lifestyle products -Nutter's Bulk and Natural Foods
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Dr. Oz
By Mehmet Oz, M.D. and Mike Roizen, M.D

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