Yes, it happened again. You were exhausted, you went to bed, and now you can’t fall asleep. Or you fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow, but you awaken in the middle of the night. Ugh, why does this happen, and what can help. Seniors and sleep, or lack of, can be so frustrating.
Let’s take a look at some reasons that could be the culprit, and rest assured (pun intended), I’ll give you some options to combat those sleepless times.
What is Insomnia – Counting Again and Now She Sticks Out Her Tongue
Insomnia is the experience of not being able to fall asleep or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep.
Insomnia has two classifications, acute and chronic.
- Acute insomnia is short-lived and may occur several nights for a few weeks.
- Chronic insomnia is when you suffer insomnia for three or more nights in a week lasting for more than three months.
What Are Some Causes Of Insomnia
You’re experiencing some sleep disturbance, but you’re not sure why. Here are some possible causes you might want to look into and see if they apply to you.
Caffeine has a short life, meaning 80% of caffeine leaves the body within 8-10 hours. So if you’re consuming caffeine in the afternoon and evening, it can interfere with you falling asleep.
As we age, many times, there is an increase in the number of medications we take. If you take medications and suffer from insomnia or sleep disturbances, talk to your doctor. Many times there are alternative medications you can take that may not interfere with sleep.
Please don’t stop taking any medication that your doctor has prescribed or suggested until you talk to him/her, as that can be dangerous.
Some medicines that may interfere with sleep are:
- Alpha and beta-blockers are used to control high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, angina, glaucoma, and other ailments.
- Ace Inhibitors – Two ailments that ace inhibitors are used for are congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.
- Glucosamine is used for joint pain and inflammation.
- Corticosteroids – commonly used for inflammation, allergic reactions, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. I’ve taken prednisone before, and it definitely kept me awake.
- Cholinesterase Inhibitors – used for memory problems, especially as seen in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Statins are used in the treatment of high cholesterol.
- Nicotine replacement products
- Thyroid hormone
- Diuretics – sometimes used in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Waking during the night to urinate.
Anxiety and stressful life events such as death, financial issues, surgery, divorce can cause insomnia.
Depression can lead to insomnia. Though an increase in sleep is seen with some people with depression, studies show 80% of people experiencing depression have trouble falling or staying asleep.
Lack of Exercise
As we get older, we tend not to get out and move as we once did. If you think back on the days of childhood, we were always on the go. We loved to play outside, and we had recess at school; it seemed like we needed no excuse to get up and move.
As adults, when we go to work, we might have a desk job that requires minimal walking. If we are retired or stay at home most of the day, we get minimal exercise.
When I was home from my recent surgery, I wasn’t getting more than 2000 steps in a day, nowhere near the 10,000 step recommendation. I didn’t think I was that inactive, but I was.
If you are a shift worker, meaning working throughout the night and sleeping during the day, this can wreak havoc with your sleep cycle.
Even though classified as a shift work sleep disorder and not insomnia, the results can be the same – trouble falling asleep or waking up every few hours.
Sleep Apnea is when there is an obstruction in breathing during sleep, and thus, the person wakes up.
Sleep Apnea is not insomnia but could cause the middle of the night awakenings.
Some signs of sleep apnea are chronic snoring, difficulty breathing/gasping for breath, and choking.
If you do have sleep apnea or suspect you might, this should be taken seriously, and a doctor should check you out as it can be deadly.
If you experience any of the above symptoms of insomnia, you should seek medical advice.
Now that we know what insomnia is and what can cause it let’s look at some ways to help.
Aromatherapy and Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment that uses essential oils that are extracted from plants. You can buy essential oils in many stores, including Amazon. A diffuser is used to have the essential oils permeate the air.
You can also apply essential oils to the skin by blending them with coconut oil. You don’t want to apply essential oils directly to the skin.
Lavender and Frankincense are both used to relax and make falling to sleep easier. I’ve used lavender, and it has worked for me.
If you have an uncomfortable or sagging mattress, it may inadvertently be interfering with your sleep. The recommendation is to flip or rotate your mattress twice a year.
A way to remember which to do -flip or rotate- use this famous jingle Spring/Spin, Fall/Flip.
Spin means taking the mattress and walking it 180 degrees, so the head becomes the foot side – no flipping involved.
Flip means turning the mattress completely over so the top goes underneath, and the bottom/underneath part becomes the top – though if you have a pillow top mattress, you really can’t flip.
The average lifespan of a mattress is seven years though some may make it ten years. If your mattress is around this age, it may be time to look into buying a new one.
If you’re over 40, you might want to look into purchasing a mattress for added support more often than the suggested 7-10 years.
Pillow – Is your pillow the right firmness for you? Have you had it a while, and it’s lost most of its support. Pillows are recommended to be bought every two years.
Two articles I’ve written look into mattresses. The first is Best Mattress Buying Guide 2021 that explores some of the options to consider when purchasing a mattress. The second is 5 Best Mattresses for Seniors. If you would like to take a look, click the link or the button below.
Black Out Curtains
If you tend to go to bed early or live in a part of the country where it stays light longer daylight time or the sun rises earlier (both phenomena tend to happen more with daylight savings time), blackout curtains may be of help.
Blackout curtains also muffle sound, so if you’re not sleeping well because of noise, they may help with this too.
I have them in my bedroom, and I do tend to sleep longer – not insomnia driven, but it’s nice sleeping longer because the sun isn’t shining through the curtains.
As stated above, caffeine usually leaves the body within 8-10 hours after consumption. So if you’re having a cup or two of coffee in the morning, that shouldn’t be affecting your sleep. However, if you’re having coffee or some other type of food or drink containing caffeine later in the afternoon or evening, this could be the culprit and should be limited.
Some people don’t realize that there is caffeine in other products than coffee, tea, and soda. Chocolate has caffeine, as do some ice cream and even decaffeinated coffee.
An herbal tea that has been around for centuries and is used to induce relaxation. Chamomile tea does not contain caffeine.
Studies have been conducted, and it’s been found that exercise improves sleep.
It seems as though moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, makes falling asleep faster and helps with the length of sleep.
Try taking a brisk walk a few hours before bedtime. Some people find when they exercise intensely or too close to bedtime, it makes it harder to fall asleep. You can switch up your exercise with videos/DVDs or even exercise equipment you have in your home. To see some options for at-home exercise, feel free to look at two articles I wrote: “Senior Exercise Videos – 5 Product Comparisons” and “Best Exercise Equipment for Seniors.”
Eye masks can provide a better sleep environment by keeping light out.
If you have a nightlight or even a clock by your bedside that gives off light, this can interfere with sleep.
Eye masks are relatively inexpensive, convenient for travel, and have no side effects.
Some foods have been found to help with falling asleep.
- Walnuts – contains melatonin – a sleep hormone
- Fatty Fish
- Turkey – think Thanksgiving
- White Rice
- Milk – Contains tryptophan (the same amino acid that’s found in turkey)
- Cherry Juice – boost levels of melatonin
When eating before bedtime, remember, you don’t want a lot; just a small amount will do.
Keeping a journal will allow you to put to rest those pesky thoughts instead of having them going through your head over and over again as your trying to fall asleep.
Jot down those racing thoughts; maybe what happened during the day that upset you that keeps running through your mind as you’re trying to go to sleep; perhaps a list of things to do tomorrow.
Some people like keeping a gratitude journal, listing five things they have to be grateful for.
Light interferes with the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Turn off those lights, including bright bedside lamps, TVs, computers, iPhones, and tablets.
Melatonin is the naturally occurring sleep hormone in the body that helps you go to sleep.
If your body isn’t producing enough melatonin, you can purchase it in a supplement form.
I’ve used melatonin in the past and have found it very useful for inducing sleep.
Reading has always helped me sleep. At one time, it was hard for me to go to sleep without reading – not ideal either.
If you try reading to fall asleep, it’s better from a paper source and not an iPad because of the light the iPad produces.
Use a soft bedside lamp to read a magazine or book.
If you find that reading keeps you awake in bed, try going to another room and read until you get drowsy and then go to bed.
Regular Bedtime Routine
It’s best, especially when dealing with insomnia, to have a consistent bedtime routine. Going to bed at the same time each night, taking a warm bath or shower, maybe a little reading. If you establish a routine before going to bed each night, it will signal your body that this is sleep time.
Stop drinking fluids such as water, alcohol, or caffeine beverages 2-4 hours before bedtime.
Use the restroom right before climbing into bed. Hopefully, this will help with the middle of the night restroom calls, but if you still need to get up, try using nightlights instead of turning the lights on. However, be careful not to trip or to bang your toes (ouch, so painful).
As there can be medical conditions causing nocturia (middle of the night restroom uses), talk to your doctor. He/She can perform tests if necessary to see if there is an underlying medical condition.
The ideal room temperature for sleep lies somewhere between 62-70 degrees. For the elderly, the ideal sleeping room temperature is 66 to 70 degrees. Temperatures that are lower or higher than this can cause a disturbance in the sleep cycle.
If you feel too cold, some people find wearing socks to bed remedies that feeling.
I’ve often used progression muscle relaxation to get to sleep. To use this method, you start at your feet and contract and squeeze one foot and count to ten, then relax. Then you contract and squeeze the other foot while counting to ten and then relax. Don’t forget to breathe.
You make your way all through your body one part at a time – calves, thighs, abs, buttocks, arms, neck, back, jaw, forward, and so on.
Some people prefer working from their forehead down to their feet instead. Either way is acceptable.
A warm bath will relax you and help lower your body temperature to make it more conducive to sleep. How this occurs is when you come out of the bath, the air feels cool and thus reduces your body temperature signaling your body; it’s time to sleep.
Some machines produce what is called “white noise.” My favorite is the sound of rain.
White noise helps you sleep in two ways.
The first is that it blocks distracting noises, and then the second, it produces relaxing sounds that help induce sleep.
In one study, it was found that a white noise machine helps sleeping as much as sleep medication.
White machines can be readily found in stores and Amazon as well.
Good Night All
Seniors and sleep – it can be an issue. There are many causes of insomnia. Once you look at some of the reasons, take the time to try some of the solutions. You never know which one(s) will be the answer for you, and you’ll figure out the missing puzzle piece. I’m hoping once you find it, you’ll say to everyone with confidence, “Goodnight to all.”
Tell us your experience with insomnia and any solutions that have or haven’t worked for you.