How much sleep should I be getting?

Guest Blog from Well Advised

If you are finding it difficult to sleep through the night, you’re not alone. Recent studies from the National Institutes of Health have estimated that 40% to 70% of older adults have chronic sleep problems. However, there is good news: One of their studies notes that healthy older Americans are less likely to report sleep problems. 

What causes sleep disorders?

You may think that your lack of rest is normal because older people need less sleep. But according to the National Institute on Aging, this isn’t true. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep each night. However, as we age, there are a number of issues and circumstances that can disrupt our sleep. They include:

  • Poor sleeping habits: If you have always been a night owl and you stay up very late, maybe it’s time to adjust your schedule. On the other hand, going to bed too early can also make for a restless night. Find your healthy medium!
  • Medications you are taking: Some commonly prescribed drugs, including beta blockers and statins, can interrupt your sleep.
  • Medical conditions: Diabetes, heart failure, kidney disease and anxiety may affect your sleep patterns. For those with sleep apnea, their breathing stops and starts during sleep, and they end up waking up throughout the night. The need to wake up and urinate – also known as nocturia – also affects many older people.
  • Your age: As we noted before, aging brings on a number of changes in our bodies and mental health that can lead to poor sleep.
  • Your body produces less melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. However, you should never take melatonin supplements without first checking with your doctor.

Stress and anxiety can also disrupt our body’s natural rhythms. Whatever the causes of your sleep difficulties, it’s best to address the problem now before you experience worse symptoms.

Why Lack of Sleep is a Problem

Getting too little sleep can cause or contribute to a variety of undesirable conditions and situations. Some of these include:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Accidents

To avoid these outcomes, take the time to address what’s causing your lack of sleep.

What Can You Do to Improve your Sleep?

Before deciding you need to accept a life with too little rest, here are a few tips to add to your routine:

  • Try not to nap for longer than 20 minutes at a time If possible, stay active so that you don’t nap at all during the day.
  • Set up your bedroom as the place where you sleep Keep your TV, radio, and computer in another room.
  • Keep your bedroom cool Many bedrooms can be too hot. The ideal temperature is around 65 degrees since our circadian rhythms expect our internal core to cool at night.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night Having a routine will let your body know that it’s time to wind down.
  • Exercise safely during the day Check with your doctor on what type of exercise they recommend and what time of the day to exercise.
  • Avoid large meals Needing to digest a heavy meal can keep you awake.
  • Meditate Meditation can improve your mental health. By alleviating anxiety and stress, you may also improve your ability to sleep comfortably through the night

If you still have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep throughout the night, make an appointment to see your doctor and ask about the possible causes of your sleep issues. Your doctor may want to prescribe medications as a sleep aid, so ask questions about the possible side effects, whether it will cause dependency, and if there are alternatives.

Whatever your sleep difficulties may be, know there are many treatment options available to you. Try the tips we recommended above and talk to your doctor. Find more tips on the 9Health:365 Online Resources page

9Health:365 has partnered with Well Advised to bring our community valuable information and resources that improve their health care. Well Advised connects older Americans with the best Medicare plan for their unique circumstances, and helps them manage their health care.