Sleep Like a Kid Again
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “A wellspent day brings happy sleep,” but what if you climb into bed and toss and turn?
Your sweet slumber is disturbed by achy joints or a big work presentation that’s on your mind. Maybe your partner is snoring his head off. Whatever it is, it’s time to do something about what’s keeping you up at night.
“Sleep deprivation can cause a variety of physical-psychological problems, which causes everything from being tired during the day to trouble concentrating, to making mistakes at your work, to becoming irritable or hostile,” says Dr. Jerald H. Simmons, who is triple board-certified in neurology, epilepsy and sleep medicine and founding director of the Comprehensive Sleep Medicine Associates (www.csma.clinic) in The Woodlands, Texas.
There are many reasons why, as we age, we don’t sleep as well as we did when we were younger. “Many people over 50 have some degree of arthritis or musculoskeletal problems with aches and pains,” says Dr. Marc I. Leavey, a primary care specialist at Lutherville Personal Physicians, Maryland, a Mercy Medical Center Community Physician Site. “Many older people also have trouble with temperature extremes, it’s either too warm or too cold, or can have anxiety, heartburn or neck problems where the pillow doesn’t give adequate support.”
As we age, we also tend to gain weight. “This weight gain can cause sleep apnea,” says Dr. Simmons.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep apnea is a common condition that occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow. The American Sleep Association says that 25 million U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea.
All hope is not lost, though, as there are just as many ways to solve these sleep problems. “First, are you having a problem falling asleep or do you wake up at night and have a problem falling back to sleep?” asks Simmons. “If you have a problem falling asleep, are you preparing for bed or working hard until it’s time to sleep? Do you have a regular sleep routine or are you drinking caffeinated beverages before bedtime?” If you’re having difficulty staying asleep, Simmons said you might need a sleep study. “What’s going on in the sleep process that’s triggering you to wake up?” he asks.
If you get up to pee a lot, it might not be because of the juice you had before bed. “Again, sleep apnea can cause increased urine production at night,” Simmons says. “Get it checked because it would be a shame to miss that it’s sleep apnea causing you to wake up.”
In some cases, you just might need a new mattress or pillow. “People who are very heavy, for example, need a mattress that provides extra support,” Leavey says. “If you use a memory foam-type mattress, a heavier person will sink in, and that could be uncomfortable, so the old-fashioned innerspring type mattress may be a better choice.”
Simmons adds that if you suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, consider a bed that is raised at the top.
Behavioral therapy is another option for the sleepless. “Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBTI, trains your brain to go to sleep, which is much more effective than pills and certainly has no side effects,” Leavey says.
Speaking of pills, if your idea of good sleep is popping a nighttime ibuprofen, think again. “What are you treating?” Leavey asks. “Just taking a pain reliever, like an aspirin or acetaminophen, relieves pain and allows you to relax and sleep. Talk to your physician and see if you just need a pain reliever and not the extra medication, which is an antihistamine.”
That doesn’t mean you should avoid medication. “Medication can be helpful, including melatonin,” Simmons says. “Going outside to sunlight during the day and taking some melatonin an hour before you go to bed can help you to fall asleep.”
To sleep with sound or without sound is personal preference. “Some people use sound machines while others need complete quiet,” Simmons says. “A repetitive sound can be very calming especially if you have tinnitus – ringing of the ears – then it can mask that noise and allow you to sleep better.”
Finally, from long johns to lingerie, there is a lot to choose from to wear at bedtime. “If you’re having problems sleeping, you might just want to simply look at what you’re wearing, or not wearing, to bed,” Leavey says.
If your partner is keeping you awake, maybe it’s time to find out what’s causing that. Once you make some basic changes to you or your partner’s sleep patterns and habits, you just might nod off blissfully. However, if you still don’t, forgo counting sheep and make an appointment with your primary care provider for a sleep test and determine what actions should be taken next.
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