Sleep is an essential part of our day. This doesn’t change as we age, despite it sometimes getting more elusive. Rejuvenating sleep really comes down to total sleep time and total deep-sleep stages – both of which can be difficult to obtain for many seniors. For those who have medical disorders, the chances of sleep deprivation increase dramatically. The National Sleep Foundation reported that 24 percent of seniors age 65-84 have at least four medical conditions they are currently being treated for. Of that group of seniors, a whopping 80 percent have reported sleep problems. The unfortunate effect of sleep deprivation with a chronic illness is one can lead to and even exacerbate the other.
Sleep deprivation is also common among seniors who aren’t suffering from other medical ailments. Instead, they can be having a hard time dealing with the effects of aging. Chronic anxiety is not uncommon for the elderly, and I’m sure we’ve all had a few sleepless nights lying awake because of it.
When we are sleep deprived, it has some profound effects both mentally and physically. Mentally, it can cause confusion, distortion of memory, depression, and decreased mental capacity. It also messes with a person’s ability to handle stress in appropriate ways, which can lead to mental disorders as we age. Studies report that people with sleep deprivation or insomnia are 3 times more likely to have a mental disorder. In the elderly, this can impact the severity of dementia and paranoia.
Physically, lack of sleep can also take its toll on a person. Things such as diminished muscle strength and endurance, increased wear and tear on vital organs, heightened sensitivity to pain, disruption of insulin production and sugar metabolism, and even a weakened immune system.
So what can be done for seniors dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation? Most importantly, if you or an aging loved one is suffering from sleep deprivation, contact your doctor or sleep diagnosis professional to get a proper diagnostic done. They will tailor your tips and medical advice directly to your individual needs. In the meantime, we have some sleep tips to help put you on the path to a healthy night’s sleep.
1. Have a regular sleep/wake schedule. Just like when we were young children, getting our body accustomed to when to be awake and when to go asleep can be essential. Find a routine you enjoy and stick with it – even on the weekends.
2. Keep your bedroom sacred. You know the old adage, bedrooms should only be used for the two S’s (sleep and sex). Many people muddy up their function by adding TVs, laptops, cellphones, and other items into the mix. Not only does electronic stimulation take a while to discharge from the brain, but this type of atmosphere makes it hard to sleep. Get rid of anything that is not tailored to the two S’s and start making your bedroom a sanctuary for sleeping.
3. Turn down the thermostat. Many people, especially as we age, have a harder time staying warm. This in turn, means the thermostat goes up. However, when it comes to sleep, keeping cool is ideal and offers the best benefits to healthy, comfortable sleep. Try turning your thermostat down a few degrees at night. If you can stand it, a temperature set between 60-68 degrees is ideal.
4. Eat healthy. Choosing your foods wisely throughout the day is a good way to promote healthy sleep habits, too. Limit your sugar and salt intake, and eat foods high in protein, fiber, and vitamins.
5. No bedtime meals. Make sure you finish any large meals a minimum of 2-3 hours before you go to sleep. Not only will it reduce your chances of uncomfortable things like heartburn, but it will also help ease you into a restful night sleep.
6. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol close to bedtime. None of these items are beneficial to rest and in fact, can have the opposite effect. Limit your consumption and avoid them altogether if you can.
7. Soak your way to rest. Remember the routine for babies and kids to ready them for bed? Well, it works for everyone! Taking a relaxing, hot bath or shower is a good way to sooth your soul and prepare you for sleep.