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Causes of Insomnia in Seniors

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Insomnia can rob you of your brain and body health. It’s important to find out its root cause.

Getting enough good sleep is vastly undervalued in today’s society. Younger working people like to brag about being able to function on only a few hours of sleep at night. But researchers have discovered that sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive decline, diabetes, obesity, depression and other problems. If you’re a senior and have trouble sleeping, you need to find the root cause. Here are some of the things that can cause insomnia in seniors:

  • If you experience severe insomnia despite your best efforts, talk to your doctor. Sometimes insomnia is a sign of a medical problem, such as sleep apnea. Treating the underlying cause may reduce or eliminate your sleep issues.
  • Your prescription and over-the-counter medications could be sabotaging your sleep and making you unhealthy. Ask your doctor if any of your medications  – or the combination of them – could be causing or contributing to your inability to sleep well. Find out if there are other drugs you could take that won’t interfere with your nighttime rest.
  • Many people count the days until they can throw away the alarm clock when they retire. But one of the side effects of “late to bed, late to rise” is that your body clock can lose its way. If you don’t keep a regular schedule, your body might release melatonin in the afternoon, making you groggy in the afternoon and making sleep elusive at night.
  • Taking a nap too late in the day or for too long can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. The ideal time for napping  is between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. You should also set an alarm so you don’t nap too long. The optimal nap length will vary from one person to the next, but the most effective range to avoid insomnia is between 20 minutes and one hour.
  • Hot flashes and night sweats can cause menopausal women to wake up multiple times during the night. Wear pajamas that wick away moisture. Avoid bedding material, such as memory foam mattresses, that can hold heat. Make sure your sheets, pillows, and pillowcases have cooling technology.
  • The blue light in cell phones, tablets, and computers can interfere with the body’s ability to produce melatonin. Without the appropriate amount of melatonin, you could have difficulty falling or staying asleep. The standard recommendation is to “unplug” by turning off these devices about an hour before you want to go to sleep. For some people, however, blue light exposure during the three or four hours before bedtime can cause insomnia. Sleep researchers say you can still watch television and use your devices in the evening if you wear special glasses that block blue light. And some electronic devices, such as the Kindle Fire, will allow you to block blue light, as desired (I personally set my Kindle Fire to Blue Shade for reading and jigsaw puzzles before bedtime and sleep very well).
  • Some people can drink a nightcap shortly before bed and fall asleep without any difficulty. A glass of wine or a cocktail can help you relax and de-stress, but for some people, an alcoholic drink too close to bedtime can mess up your sleep cycle, causing you to wake up during the night. To avoid insomnia, experts recommend you have that drink several hours before you want to go to sleep.

References: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. “Can’t Sleep? Here Are 11 Surprising Causes.” (accessed September 23, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2019/have-trouble-sleeping.html

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