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Aging and Insomnia Don't Go Hand-in-Hand

By Aliyah Baruchin, HealthAtoZ writer

It's said that the older people get, the less sleep they need. If you're having trouble sleeping at night or you wake up tired, you should know that insomnia isn't a normal part of aging.

As you age, your levels of growth hormone and melatonin (which control sleeping and waking) decline. This can make you go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, sleep more lightly or wake up several times during the night.

Like younger adults, you still need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Something besides normal aging may be causing your problem if:

  • You depend on pills to sleep
  • You haven't slept soundly in over a month
  • You often become sleepy at times when you should be alert (such as behind the wheel)

Common causes of insomnia in seniors
Several health conditions that affect older people can interfere with sleep, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Incontinence
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Heart disease
  • An enlarged prostate

These conditions may cause breathing difficulties, frequent urination or pain that awakens you during the night. If you think an illness is causing your insomnia, talk to your doctor.

Sleep disorders
If you have sleep apnea, you may stop breathing at times during the night. Another condition, restless legs syndrome, causes an unpleasant sensation in the legs and an intense need to move them while lying down. If you think you have either condition, speak with your doctor.

Some medications can affect sleeping. These include:

  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Cardiovascular drugs
  • Beta blockers
  • Decongestants
  • Antidepressants

If this is the case, your doctor may recommend a different drug or ask you to take your medication at a different time of day. Remember to cut down on caffeine and nicotine, which can also interfere with sleep.

Other factors affecting sleep
The lifestyle changes and emotional ups and downs of aging can also affect sleep. If you're less active than you used to be, your body may not know it still needs just as much sleep. Getting more exercise during the day - at least two hours before bedtime - can help. So can getting at least two hours of bright-light exposure each day. This can come from the sun or from a light box, which your doctor can recommend. Don't nap for more than 20 minutes during the day, or you may have trouble falling asleep at night. If feelings of sadness or anxiety are keeping you awake, talk to your doctor. You may be suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder, both of which can be treated.

Remember that sleeplessness is not a normal part of aging. Simple changes and your doctor's suggestions can help you get the rest you need.


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