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Health and Fitness

Simple strategies help manage sleep problems

If you are a “good sleeper,” lucky you!
Some of us start thinking too much the minute our weary heads hit the pillow. As a result, we just don’t get enough shut-eye. Because sleep problems greatly affect our health and well-being, let’s look at some typical sleep concerns and a few strategies for racking up a good night’s rest.
As we age sleep declines
Most of us already know that the amount of sleep we get declines as we age. According to an article on the med.harvard.edu website, at different stages people sleep about this much:

  • Newborns sleep 16 to 20 hours asleep each day.
  • Ages 1-4 kids sleep about 11 or 12 hours.
  • Adolescent need, but don’t always get nine hours
  • Adults through middle age need at least eight hours
  • Elderly may need eight hours, but don’t get it in one block.

Sweet dreams dreaming of Snow White and the seven dwarves - painting by Franz Schrotzberg
Sweet dreams dreaming of Snow White and the seven dwarves – painting by Franz Schrotzberg

Women tend to suffer more sleep problems 
Although the research doesn’t necessarily corroborate my observations, many of my female friends complain of simply “thinking too much” or worrying when they go to bed. Blame it on our being genetically tuned in to nurturing, crying babies and such, multi-tasking and the “yak, yak” in our heads, but sleep is a gift and many of us wish we had more of it.
The Harvard blog says that half of adult women report sleep disturbances during their menstrual periods; three-quarters of expectant mothers report that sleep is more disturbed during pregnancy; and many experience disrupted sleep during menopause, in part due to nighttime “hot flashes.”
What Causes Sleep Problems?
The causes of sleep problems are many and varied, says Jack Gardner, MD, a neurologist certified in sleep medicine at the Sleep Center at Baylor Medical Center in Waxahachie, Texas.
 
“Insomnia is more common for seniors, partly because of health issues, partly because of the anxiety and the concerns of aging, and sometimes because of medication,” says Dr. Gaardner. “The likelihood of sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome also increases with age. Arthritis pain is also common and can rob sleep from seniors.”
 
Another factor is that older sleepers tend to get sleepy and go to bed earlier as well as wake up earlier than they once did. Called “advanced sleep phase syndrome,” it can play havoc with seniors’ sleep, especially if they still stay up late.
Some of the dangers of sleep deprivation include:

  • Insomnia – daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating
  • Snoring/Sleep Apnea – at risk for headaches, memory loss, depression and cardiovascular disease
  • Other causes – gastro esophageal reflux and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (REM), Restless Leg Syndrome

Strategies to improve sleep
Here are a few tips on how to get a good night’s sleep from the National Institute of Health:

  • Avoid large meals shortly before bedtime.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine.
  • Get regular exercise early in the day.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. (Don’t take naps.)
  • Use the bed only for sleep or sexual activity.

The article also suggests that if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity such as reading or listening to music.
It counsels avoid using sleeping pills to help you sleep, if possible. They can lead to dependence and can make sleep problems worse over time if you don’t use them correctly.
How do you deal with insomnia? 
 

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