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Greg Bishop, Attorney of Park City, Shares Insomnia-Beating Strategies for Older Adults

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Sleep is an important aspect of maintaining physical, mental, and emotional well-being. However, the need for sleep changes over the course of a person’s lifetime. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep ranges from 14-17 hours for newborns to 7-9 hours for older adults. The recommendations – as determined by an 18-member panel of multidisciplinary experts from 12 stakeholder organizations – are:

  • Newborns (up to 3 months): 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Pre-Schoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
  • School-aged Children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
  • Young Adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
  • Older Adults (65 and older): 7 to 9 hours

Although it is a common misconception that an adult’s need for sleep decreases with age, it is nevertheless true that poor sleep health is a common complaint among older adults. An early study (1982) by the National Institute on Aging determined that over half (57%) of the people 65 years and older report some form of chronic disruption in their sleep, with only 12% reporting no sleep-related concerns. The primary complaints made by older adults include: 

  • Nocturnal waking: 30%
  • Insomnia: 29%
  • Daytime napping: 25%
  • Trouble falling asleep: 19%
  • Waking too early: 19%
  • Waking not rested: 13%

Sleep disorders can be broadly categorized into seven specific areas:

  • Insomnias (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as long as desired) 
  • Hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
  • Circadian rhythm disorders (disorders that affect the timing of sleep)
  • Sleep-breathing disorders (disorders that involve difficulty breathing during sleep)
  • Narcolepsy (a neurological disorder that affects the sleep/wake cycle)
  • Parasomnia (abnormal or unusual behavior of the nervous system during sleep)
  • Sleep movement disorders (disorders that cause movement prior to or during sleep)

The two most common sleep disorders for older adults are insomnia and sleep-breathing disorders. 

Insomnia Strategies to Improve Sleep

Greg Bishop, an attorney in Park City, notes that while sleep-breathing disorders may require medical intervention, there are several self-help strategies for insomnia that older adults could adopt. If these simple tips don’t help, he suggests using a sleep diary to track your sleep habits for one or two weeks, and then taking the results to your physician.  

1. Establish a Bedtime Ritual

Your circadian rhythm – also referred to as your sleep/wake cycle and your internal body clock – is your body’s way of naturally regulating feelings of wakefulness and sleepiness over 24 hours. Your circadian rhythm is controlled by an area of the brain that responds to light, which is why people feel more alert when the sun is shining and more tired when it is dark.  

Artificial light – especially the bright blue light from TVs, computer screens, touchpads, and cell phones – has a tendency to mess with your circadian rhythm. By progressively dimming the lights in your house during the evening and avoiding your tech devices as it gets closer to bedtime, you prepare your body to shift into its normal sleep mode.

In addition, establishing a bedtime ritual – whether it be reading a book, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath – will help create the Pavlovian sleep response that you seek.

2. Set Up a Sleep Schedule

As anyone who travels internationally can tell you, erratic sleep patterns can throw off your game. One strategy is to set up a sleep schedule – a set time when you get up and retire each day – and to stick to it as closely as you can (even on weekends). Given that sleep patterns shift with age, you may find yourself gravitating toward getting up earlier and going to bed earlier than you did when you were younger.

3. Avoid Snooze Blockers 

When it comes to getting the rest you need, caffeine not only interferes with regular sleep patterns, it also can hide existing sleep deprivation. In order to block caffeine from having a negative impact on your z’s, you should stop your caffeine intake – whether it be through coffee, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, or something else – four to six hours before going to bed. In fact, given that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours, you may find you need to stop your caffeine consumption even earlier in the day.

Other stimulants that may make stop you from falling or staying asleep are tobacco and alcohol (while alcohol may make you feel sleepy, even a small amount can make it difficult to remain asleep).  

Finally, you should ignore Winnie the Pooh’s advice: “Let’s start by taking a smallish nap or two.” Although a power nap may make it easier for you to get through your day, it may also make it more difficult for you to go to sleep or stay asleep at night. Avoid napping if you can.

4. Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment

Creating a comfortable sleeping environment will minimize the risks of not being able to sleep. Make sure you have a mattress, pillow, and bedding that allows you to feel cozy and relaxed. Adjust the room temperature, so it is not too hot or too cold (somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees is best because it helps your body temperature drop, which occurs during sleep). Some find that a little bit of background noise – white noise, nature sounds, calming music – helps them drift off to sleep. Others find that wearing earplugs helps block out unwelcome sounds (like a snoring spouse) that may keep them awake. Finally, closing the drapes or blinds, or wearing an eye shade will reduce your perception of light and may also make it easier to sleep. 

5. Exercise Daily

Physical exercise – particularly vigorous exercise – has been shown to improve sleep quality and increase sleep duration. Exercising outdoors is especially helpful in allowing your body to absorb natural sunlight during the daytime hours, which in turn helps with your natural cycadean rhythm. Many find that exercising in the morning or afternoon helps them sleep better at night, since exercising in the evening may over-stimulate the body. However, some find that exercising before bed helps exhaust them and make them more ready for sleep. Either way, exercising helps stress the body and promotes deeper and longer sleep. 

About Greg Bishop, Attorney

Greg Bishop is a results-oriented executive experienced in managing the legal, compliance, and HR functions of private and public companies. Professionally, he is best known for building strong teams that ensure company success. Personally, he is passionate about the outdoors – he enjoys mountain biking, traveling, and hiking, and strives to share this passion for life with others.

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