As we age, our sleep patterns naturally change and we may experience light sleep, frequent awakenings, and daytime fatigue. These changes are normal, and in most cases sleep problems can be alleviated by changing our bedtime habits. Some examples of things we can do to encourage sleep might include having a regular bedtime, establishing pre-sleep rituals, exercising regularly, and avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol before bedtime.
Quick reference guide
Challenge: a good night's sleep
Have a bedtime routine - see your doctor if you are having difficulty sleeping
Perform a fire-check before bed - To get your electric blanket checked every year contact Age Concern
a. Keep warm but turn off electric blankets
b. Avoid using hot water bottles due to possibility of burns.
c. Beware of wheat bags - ensure properly made as home-made ones have been known to catch fire when heated in microwave due to type of wheat used
Use a torch or night lights for nocturnal navigation to the toilet - If worried about getting up too often to the toilet, reduce fluid intake 2 hours before bedtime
Have a telephone by your bed - Contact Telecom for another phone
Radio for company/good book if able to read
Fresh air and exercise daily if possible
Be aware that medication can make you drowsy
Write down tasks for the next day if worrying over them to help organise your thoughts
Websites of interest
- SleepNZ has a variety of information on many different forms of sleep difficulty, their causes and what to do.
- For some interesting articles on sleep try the www.webmd.com website.
- "Having Trouble Sleeping as you Grow Older". People 65 and older may have trouble falling asleep or they might not stay asleep all night. The sleep-wake cycle changes as we get older, so we might get sleepy earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.
- "Sleeping Well As We Age: Healthy Habits for Seniors". This article in Helpguide.com will help you understand the causes of sleep problems and provide tips to help you sleep well. Age alone does not cause sleep problems. Disturbed sleep, waking up tired every day, and other symptoms of insomnia are not a normal part of aging. Instead, poor sleep habits and conditions such as untreated sleep disorders, medications, or medical problems can accumulate and compound to result in sleeplessness.
- There is a lot of useful information on the emedicine site on Sleep and the elderly.
- Another useful site is familydoctor.org. The site looks at sleep changes in the elderly and includes information on restless leg syndrome, and periodic limb movement disorder.
The main thing to remember is that if you can't go to sleep ... don't lie there worrying about it. If you are having trouble getting a good night's sleep despite your best efforts your doctor may refer you to a Sleep Clinic, which are usually located in main hospitals.