Age-Related Insomnia – Are You at Risk?

Age-related insomnia, a common problem among people over 50, is a complex medical condition caused by physical and/or emotional disorders, increased stress, lack of exercise, and diet and/or lifestyle changes. There is a common misperception that as people age they need less sleep; however, this is not true. Elderly people need as much, perhaps even more sleep, than they did when they were young to maintain a healthy immune system.

For an elderly person suffering from such a sleep disorder, the first order of business is to undergo a physical examination by a medical doctor. In order to reap the full benefit of this exam, the patient must be completely honest and forthcoming about a family history of insomnia; personal sleep habits and diet; consumption of alcohol, nicotine, and drugs; any stress-related problems that may affect sleep; and physical ailments or disorders. The doctor will probably order labs to draw blood as well as diagnostic testing to rule out any physical disorders predisposing the patient to insomnia. Usually, though, the insomnia can be traced to what is called poor sleep hygiene, a constellation of behaviors and/or activities done at bedtime.

A major problem contributing to sleep deprivation in older people is the added responsibility of taking care of their elderly parents who are ailing. This added stress really takes a toll on sleep and general well being on all levels.

A patient suffering from age-related insomnia may not recognize that his/her behavior may contribute to the problem. However, in a world where people feel pressured to get everything accomplished right now, it is tempting to try to cram in all kinds of activity at night after work. This is detrimental. Night time should be spent winding down from the day in preparation for a good night of sleep.

In order to prepare for sleep, it is imperative to let the mind shut down from all the stimuli of the day. Here are some helpful tips to do just that:

The bedroom should be an area wholly dedicated to sleep. Remove the television, computer, and video games from this room. Do not work in bed. Do not argue in bed.

Sticking to this regimen will help the brain reprogram itself for the purpose of going to sleep.

Block out outside noise pollution and light; using blackout window curtains in the bedroom is a great solution. Additionally, blackout curtains will keep the room cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, aiding sleep.

Keep inside light to a low level. If a nightlight is needed, try putting a red light bulb in a regular lamp and using that instead. The soft glow from that light will be less invasive and disruptive to sleep.

Stop late-night eating, drinking, and smoking. Drink caffeinated beverages only in the morning.

Take a daily walk; after dinner is a good time to take a 30-minute walk. Make sure this is done at least four hours prior to bedtime.

An hour or so prior to bedtime, perform some relaxing activity such as meditation, reading a good book, listening to mood-enhancing music, or playing a prerecorded sleep-inducing tape.

Over time, following the tips above should provide not only increased health benefits overall, but also noticeable relief from age-related insomnia.