2005-09-22 / Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior


Can you tell me about senior sleeping problems and how to get help? My husband has never been a good sleeper but it’s gotten worse the past few years. I think he has a sleeping disorder but he thinks I’m exaggerating. What can you tell us?

Retired and Tired

Dear Tired,

For many people, just when they enter retirement and finally have time to sleep, nature plays a dirty trick. They get less sleep and what they do get is poorer quality. Here’s what you should know.

Sleeping Disorders

There are nearly 40 million Americans that suffer from sleep disorders and most don’t know it. The three major disorders that affect older adults are:

• Insomnia: Around 60 percent of people over age 65 have trouble falling or staying asleep (a few nights a week) due to various reasons such as arthritis pain, stress, heartburn, depression, noise, me-dication and more. See “sleeping help” and “sleeping tips” below for possible solutions or visit www. Sleepfoundation.org.

• Sleep apnea: About 18 million people have sleep apnea, which is a disorder that stops breathing repeatedly during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times, and causes poor quality sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can also cause a host of serious health problems including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. If you are a heavy snorer, you need to be tested. For free publications on sleep apnea and treatment options visit www.sleepapnea.org or call 202-293-3650.

• Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): Around eight percent of Americans have RLS, which is an overwhelming urge to move the legs usually caused by unpleasant sensations. While there’s no known cure for RLS, there are a variety of effective medications that can treat it. For more information or to locate a RLS specialist visit www.rls.org or call 877-463-6757.

Sleeping Help

Few doctors know much about sleep. In fact, less than 5 percent of people with sleep disorders receive a proper diagnosis, but a good sleep center or sleep specialist can help you. To locate one in your area visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine at www.aasmnet.org or call 888-412-9253. Here are some possible treatment options to consider:

• Behavioral therapies: These are drug-free approaches to treating insomnia that includes: cognitive behavioral therapy, where you change your negative thoughts that are keeping you awake; sleep restriction, where patients are initially sleep deprived; and relaxation techniques. Most behavioral treatments are offered in sleep centers.

New sleeping pills : You may have noticed the advertising blitz of the new prescription sleeping pill called Lunesta. Recently approved by the FDA, it can be taken long-term without losing its effectiveness or causing addiction. Two other new sleep drugs to ask you doctor about are Rozerem and Indoplin.

Sleeping Tips

To help you get your zzz’s, here are some extra tips to consider:

• Stick to a schedule: Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning - even on weekends.

• Sleep-friendly environment: Make your bedroom a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool place to sleep.

• Exercise: The best time to exercise to enhance sleep is late in the afternoon.

• Ditch the vices late in the day: Big meals close to bedtime can disturb sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that make it harder to get to sleep. And alcohol can lead to wakefulness in the middle of the night.

• Bedtime snack: Dairy products (milk, yogurt) and carbohydrates (bread, cereal) are good bedtime snacks that trigger seotonin, which makes you sleepy.

• Check your meds: Some prescription drugs can interfere with sleep including some antidepressants, high blood pressure, thyroid hormone and respiratory medications. Also, many over-the-counter pain medications, decongestants and weight-loss products contain caffeine and other stimulants. If you suspect a medicine is interfering with your sleep, talk to your doctor about switching drugs, lowering the dosage or changing the time of day you take it.

• Napping: If you like to nap keep it under an hour and do it before 3 PM.

• Bedtime rituals: Create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine like reading, listening to soothing music or taking a hot bath that can help you calm your mind and unwind.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.

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