Sleep Struggles

By Julia Price

May 11, 2017 5 min read

Parents often monitor their kids' sleeping patterns as a way to ensure they're getting a quality night of zzz's. But who monitors our sleeping routines once we're older? How are we supposed to know whether we're getting enough sleep or how to prepare for if we need more? According to the National Sleep Foundation, one of the most common concerns elderly people have is that they sleep for less time than when they were younger, plus they may report waking up multiple times during the night or having difficulty falling asleep in the first place.

There are various stages of sleep that cycle throughout the entirety of one's night -- light and deep -- and many seniors tend to experience an increase in their number of light stages, which could cause more tiredness throughout the day. A major factor contributing to this change is linked to medications prescribed for physical and psychological illnesses, although some of it is completely natural. For example, as we age, we organically tend to get tired earlier in the evening and, in turn, rise earlier in the morning. A sleep therapist can help change your circadian rhythm, utilizing light therapy, traditional therapy or other resources. For a list of sleep therapists near you, call your health insurance company or look on its website.

If you're looking to take matters into your own hands, there are many homeopathic and natural remedies that are quite easy to introduce into your nightly and daily routines. At night, try to avoid television, the computer and your cellphone for at least one hour before you retire to the bedroom. Because your body wants to stay awake when it thinks it's daytime, these devices can create a sort of fake "daylight" effect, throwing off your natural sleep rhythm. You also should try to avoid drinking water or other liquids for at least an hour before bedtime.

Stretching and meditation are also great tools to help slow down your system into complete relaxation mode, calming and quieting the mind. If you have trouble meditating on your own, there are many assisting apps you can use; however, if you require assistance, make sure that your phone or other device has the light turned all the way down so that you avoid bright lights as recommended above. You might also try taking a warm bath or shower before sleeping, making sure to focus on slow breathing and the way the water feels on your skin. Sometimes humming slowly or chanting a mantra can also calm your mind and put you into a completely surrendered state of calm.

If none of the above works, melatonin is a great natural sleep aid that will help sooth you into sleep without giving you some of the "hangover" effects you may feel from an over-the-counter or prescribed sleeping pill. Melatonin is a natural chemical found in the body, so taking it merely enhances your body's ingrained clock that tells it when to go to sleep. This shouldn't be used nightly, however. It should be used only when necessary. That's because when the brain is exposed to too much melatonin, it becomes unresponsive, according to Richard Wurtman, who pioneered the use of melatonin in helping people sleep.

Of course, you want to slightly tweak some of your daytime habits, as well. When you wake up, try to get your body moving immediately with a walk or a mini-workout in your home. Maybe that means dancing or swaying or circling your arms, but whatever you decide to do, make sure that your heart rate and breath increase. And if you like a morning cup of coffee or tea with caffeine, wait to have it until after you have a full cup of water. Also, make sure you don't have anything with caffeine after 2 p.m. Aside from that, you want to stay active. Make sure to engage in physically and mentally stimulating activities. If your physical shape prevents you from being active, look for swimming classes or something less strenuous, or if that isn't possible, do whatever movement you can to keep fit.

These changes are completely normal, and you don't have to suffer through them. Remember that all of this is just a reminder to take care of yourself and to treat your body with the love and attention it deserves. Get a massage when you're sore. Listen to audiobooks when you're not feeling very physically active. Enjoy every moment and practice stating what you're grateful for every morning when you wake up and every night before you crawl into bed. Sometimes those small changes can make all the difference in the world.

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