According to experts, sleep patterns naturally change as people get older. Older adults sleep for fewer hours and take longer to fall asleep. They also sleep less deeply and wake up more often during the night. Normal aging is not the only cause for sleep problems. Alzheimer’s disease, certain medications, and stress can all cause sleep problems.
People who do not sleep well are at risk for other health problems, including depression. The problem is that many older adults who have trouble sleeping don’t get help for it. The people who need help but don’t get it is the focus of National Sleep Awareness Week, which is March 3-10. The end of the week actually coincides with the clock change to Daylight Saving Time, where Americans lose one hour of sleep.
To help people sleep, WebMD assembled several tips to help improve sleep for older adults. If you care for an older adult who does not sleep well, encourage him or her to try these tips:
- Get regular exercise and get out in the sunshine during the day.
- Keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark in the evening and night.
- If possible, keep food and snacks out of the bed.
- If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed. Bed is the place where you sleep, not do other things.
- As much as possible, limit or reduce the need to wake up at night, such as for medicines.
- Follow the same routine at evening and bedtime.
If these tips don’t help, experts say you should talk to a doctor about other ways to improve sleep.
A solution could be a medication that helps with sleep, but doctors usually recommend these types of medications sporadically and only for a short time. The concern is that some sleep aids can become addicting and that can be dangerous. Additionally, the FDA recently required lower doses for Ambien and other sleep medications. This came about because of studies that suggest patients face a higher risk of injury due to morning drowsiness.
There are other natural remedies that can help people sleep, like melatonin, chamomile, or ginkgo biloba. WebMD also has advice about these options. It’s important to remember that these supplements are not regulated and can be risky for people who take certain medications or have certain conditions. Be sure to talk to a professional before taking them to limit you or your loved one’s risk.
For more information about Sleep Awareness Week, visit www.sleepfoundation.org.