Published March 1, 2004, Pawtucket Times
Sometimes I just can’t sleep. When this happens, I just lay in bed tossing and turning, staring through the darkness at the ceiling. It is 2 a.m. All I want is a good night’s sleep.
According to a publication released by the New York-based International Longevity Center-USA (ILC-USA) and the AARP Foundation, I am not along in trying to get a good night’s sleep-a whopping one-third of the nation’s seniors will find themselves sleepless in their bedrooms (not in Seattle). Lack of sleep can even lead to serious health disorders.
The AARP-ILC consumer publication, “Getting Your ZZZZZZZZs: How Sleep Affects health and Aging,” takes a look at common sleep disorders, their effects on the brain and body and what someone who suffers from these conditions might do to get a good night’s sleep.
“Not getting the right amount of sleep can become a serious health problem, and it is not a natural part of aging,” says Robert N. Butler, M.D., ILC-USA’s president and CEO in a written statement promoting the publication.
“A large number of older persons often suffer from this medical condition and go unrecognized or are not treated appropriately,” he said.
“According to the 12-page AARP-LLC consumer-oriented publication, sleep problems in your later years are caused by a combination of factors. Sleep problems can result from physical changes associated with growing old.
Sleep problems can also be caused by pain and discomfort associated with aging and traumatic life experiences, such as the death of a spouse, or the loss of a job.
Even decreased physical activity and lack of exposure to sunlight can also impact on a person’s ability to sleep.
“Sleeplessness sets up a vicious cycle. Older people have problems that disturb their sleep, which often affects their other body systems, especially hormone production and metabolism causing more problems that disturb sleep even more,” states the AARP ILC publication.
“New studies highlight the signficant impact of sleep on physical and mental well-being, especially for older men and women,” the AARP-ILC publication points out. Loss of sleep can lead to memory problems, depression and greater risk of falling. Lack of sleep may also cause changes in the nervous system that affect cardiovascular health.
According to the AARP-ILC publication, snoring may indicate as serious health problem, considered the most common form of sleep apnea. This sleep disorder causes sleeplessness because the sleeper wakes up frequently from the lack of oxygen caused by this labored breathing.
Findings from the Nurses health Study indicate that snoring was associated with hypertension as well as weight-related health problems.
Several other research studies have shown that people who suffer from sleep apnea also have high rates of automobile accidents and are at risk for diabetes.
Insomnia caused by depression, serious mental or physical illness, or unhealthy lifestyle choices, is considered another major sleep disorder. Proper treatment requires a physician to diagnose the cause. In addition, obesity, alcohol, smoking, nasal congestion and menopause are also suspected of affecting a person’s ability to fall asleep.
Meanwhile, report gives tips on getting your ZZZZZZZs.
The AARP-ICU consumer publication notes a regular schedule of exercise and a healthier lifestyle can help you enhance the quality of your sleep.
Recent studies also indicate taking short naps during the day of no more than 20 to 30 minutes may actually help a person sleep at night.
Although medications can be used for short-term problems, it does not seem to solve long term sleep problems.
Always check your medications. Some actually act as stimulants. Avoid alcohol and nicotine. Both can disrupt your sleep. Also, avoid overeating and drinking large quantities of liquids before bedtime.
Finally, create a sleep-friendly bedroom. A cool, quiet room can enhance your sleep. Make sure that your mattress is comfortable. Use the bed for only sleep or sex to strengthen the mind’s association between bed and sleep.
Meanwhile, the AARP-ILC publication notes two new ides, light therapy and two drugs, melatonin and valarian, are thought by some experts to be effective treatments for seniors with insomnia problems. However, the authors of the publication call for more studies to ensure that these alternative treatments are safe and effective.
“Our nation’s oldest adults need not accept poor sleep as a penalty for being old,” said Dr. Butler. “As researchers learn more about how the human body controls sleep, effective treatments for sleep disorders in older and younger people, will become increasingly possible.”
Call 212-606-3383 to get copies of “Getting Your ZZZZZZZs: How Sleep Affects Health and Aging.” English and Spanish versions of this publication can be downloaded from the ILC-USA’s Web site at www.ilcusa.org.
Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be researched at firstname.lastname@example.org.