“To sleep, perchance to dream…” — William Shakespeare
As a small child in Austria, I remember lying awake for hours waiting for the low and rhythmic rumbles made by the train that would pass in the distance. I would imagine the places that train would go; the places crafted by tales told by the Brothers Grimm. Even at the unburdened age of 6, it would take me hours to fall asleep, while my sister’s head would barely hit the pillow before the annoying sounds of light snoring would drift up from the bottom bunk.
I have always considered myself a “bad” sleeper. As I have aged, sleeping has become more and more difficult, and I often find myself tired and frustrated. I seem to have no trouble falling asleep, but staying asleep is another story. I wake frequently each night. On “good nights,” I may fall asleep after 15 to 20 minutes, while on “bad nights,” I am often awake for hours on end.
It seems that nearly half of men and women over the age of 65 say they have at least one sleep problem. With age, many of us get insomnia or develop other sleep disorders. Research has shown that as we get older, our sleep patterns change. In general, older people sleep less, wake up more often and spend less time in deep sleep or dreaming than younger people.
Unfortunately, if we don’t sleep well, we are more likely to suffer from depression, attention and memory problems, and excessive daytime sleepiness. We are more likely to fall, have increased sensitivity to pain and have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems and breast cancer.
The main causes of poor sleep are:
• Poor sleep habits: If we don’t keep a steady schedule for going to bed and waking up, it can affect our body’s internal clock and make it even harder to get good sleep. Also, at any age, it’s a minus if we drink alcohol before bedtime, nap too much or stay in bed when we are not sleeping.
• Medications: Some drugs make it harder to fall or stay asleep, or even stimulate us to stay awake. If you think that might be true for you, ask your doctor to check.
• Worry, stress, or grief: Aging brings many life changes. Some are positive. Others are really hard. When we lose someone we love, move from our family home or have a condition that changes our life, it causes stress, which can hamper your sleep.
• Sleep disorders: Besides insomnia, these include apnea, restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder and REM behavior disorder. Your doctor can see if you have one of these conditions.
• Too much downtime: Many of us try to stay active, but if our days are too idle, we may find it harder to get good sleep.
You are the best judge of how well you sleep. If you feel that the quality of your sleep is poor or that you don’t sleep enough, talk with your doctor, have a sleep study or learn more about tips for overcoming insomnia.
If you have any questions, or if there is a topic you want to read about in the Ask Your Daughter column, please send me an email at [email protected] or write to me at Senior Services of Albany, 32 Essex St., Albany 12206.
Be well and be happy.