When The Elderly Have Problems Sleeping?
I’m an elderly female living at home by myself. My health problems are minimal, but I do have terrible insomnia. I go in and out of sleep all night long and then am tired all the next day. Going to bed is a dreaded time for me because I know I won’t sleep well, but I keep trying night after night. What do you suggest?
Sleep problems are often very complex and can be caused from medical problems, psychological difficulties or behavioral problems.
You say your life is dominated by sleep problems. Some individuals develop a type of insomnia that is called learned or behavioral insomnia.
They worry so much about trying to get to sleep that they become tense and anxious. This interferes with their ability to fall asleep. A vicious cycle develops in which they become too preoccupied and obsessed with their inability to sleep well, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My first recommendation is for you to consult your physician and rule out a medical explanation for your problem. Conditions such as hyperthyroidism and restless legs syndrome can interfere with sleep.
Also, some medications taken by older adults can contribute to insomnia, including over-the-counter medications that contain caffeine. Coffee, tea and dark colas also often contribute to sleeplessness.
Chronic pain problems, such as arthritis, as well as anxiety, depression or the death of a spouse, friend or pet also can cause sleep problems. Daytime napping, especially late in the afternoon or early evening, can complicate sleep later at night.
Try to avoid too much excitement or upsetting activity in the hour or so before your desired bedtime. Instead listen to music, enjoy a calming TV show or read.
Finally, some senior citizens go to bed at a relatively early time and expect to sleep through the night, when in fact they have achieved their required number of hours of sleep long before the sun has come up. You may want to reset your bedtime hour.
On a more positive note, one of the greatest aids in my experience to improving sleep is exercise. After a clearance from your physician, see if you can become engaged in regular and frequent exercise.
I hope that this information is useful, and I wish you a good night’s sleep.
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright © 2010