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Improving Sleep As You Age

As you age, you may find yourself waking up throughout the night.

And you may wonder, “Is this a natural part of aging, or is something wrong?”

It’s common to experience bouts of insomnia as you get older. Oftentimes it’s caused by health conditions or changes that are part of the aging process. These can include:

Changes in sleep patterns. Sleep often becomes less restful as people age, so noise or other changes in the environment are more likely to wake them. With age, the internal clock often changes, so people get tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. But older people generally still need the same amount of sleep as younger people do.

Changes in activity. You may be less physically or socially active. A lack of activity can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Also, the less active you are, the more likely you may be to take a daily nap, which can interfere with sleep at night.

Changes in health. Chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis or back problems can interfere with sleep. So can depression or anxiety. Issues that increase the need to use the bathroom during the night — like prostate or bladder conditions — also can disrupt sleep. Sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome also become more common with age and can disrupt sleep.

More medicines. Older people typically use more prescription medicines than do younger people. Some medicines can cause daytime drowsiness, nighttime sleep disruption or even nightmares.

So what can you do to get more restful sleep?

  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. This means going to bed and waking up at the same times each day.
  • Turn off the light. The lights from a computer, television or phone can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Turn screens off at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Find a relaxing routine that you follow each night before bed. This could include reading, meditating or listening to calming music.
  • Stay active. Regular physical activity helps promote a good night’s sleep. Schedule exercise in the morning or afternoon to avoid stimulating activities right before bedtime.
  • Check your medicines. If you take medicines regularly, check with your health care team to see if they may be contributing to your insomnia. Be sure to mention whether you’re taking any medicines you can get without a prescription as well.
  • Avoid or limit naps. Naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you can’t get by without one, try to limit a nap to no more than 30 minutes. And don’t nap after 3 p.m.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed. Drink less liquid before bedtime so that you won’t have to use the bathroom as often.
  • Don’t put up with pain. If a painful condition bothers you, talk to your care team about options for pain relievers that will work while you’re sleeping.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep. Only use your bedroom for sex or sleep. Keep the room dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature. Keep all clocks in your bedroom out of sight, including your wristwatch and cellphone, so you don’t worry about what time it is.

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