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Blog Feature

By: Kevin Asp on July 22nd, 2015

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5 Tips For Helping Baby Boomers to Sleep Better

Sleep Medicine | Sleep Technologist Advice

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There is a growing awareness of lack of sleep as a problem among older generations of Americans 

It's no secret that few generations have paid as little attention to sleep as baby boomers, many whom lived through a social culture where sleeping less was treated like a badge of honor. 

As the baby boomer generation moves through their 50s and 60s into retirement and looks forward to relaxing, many are finding a good night's sleep may be hard to come by. Like previous generations, many are grappling with insomnia, snoring, and other disorders associated with aging, excess weight, and uncooperative sleep cycles.

The reality is that sleep problems affect about 70 million Americans, according to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health.  And the consequences of sleep disorders that go untreated have caused an estimated 1,500 deaths and tens of thousands of injuries per year.

So why are baby boomers experiencing more sleep problems as they age and how do they get a better night's sleep? Here are 5 tips for helping baby boomers to sleep better:
 
 
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1. Keep regular bedtime and rising hours

As we age our sleep cycles change.

A big reason for senior snooze troubles lies in a big difference between younger and older sleepers: the timing of rest. As adults age, advanced sleep phase syndrome sets in, causing the body's internal clock to adjust to earlier bed and wakeup times. But some seniors continue to stay up late, as they did in their younger years. Sleep deprivation is often the result.

As you age, you may have to spend longer in bed at night to get the hours of sleep you need, or you may have to make up the shortfall by taking a nap during the day. In most cases, such sleep changes are normal and don't indicate a sleep problem.

Try following these tips to maintain a consistent sleep schedule:

  • Block out snoring. If snoring is keeping you up, try earplugs, a white-noise machine, or separate bedrooms.  (Or better yet get him to the sleep center for evaluation!)
  • Go to bed earlier. Adjust your bedtime to match when you feel like going to bed, even if that’s earlier than it used to be.
  • Develop bedtime rituals. A soothing ritual, like taking a bath or playing music will help you wind down. 
  • Limit your use of sleeping aids and sleeping pills. Many sleep aids have side effects and they are not meant for long-term use. Sleeping pills don’t address the causes of insomnia and can even make insomnia worse in the long run.

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2. Develop better sleep habits

Whether you know it or not, bad sleep habits can be preventing you from getting the rest you need.

Poor sleep habits, including a poor sleep environment and poor daytime habits, can be the main causes of sleep problems. In many cases, baby boomers develop these poor sleep habits over a lifetime but find they create more and more problems as they age. Fortunately, these habits are easy to improve.

Daytime tips to keep in mind:

  • Be engaged. Social activities, family, and work can keep your activity level up and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. 
  • Improve your mood. A more positive mood and outlook can reduce sleep problems.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins that can boost your mood and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
  • Get more sun. No matter your age, daylight is extremely important because it helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle. Spend as much time as possible outdoors or near sunlight.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Consuming these before bed will interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Night time tips to keep in mind:

  • Naturally boost your melatonin levels. Artificial lights at night can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Use low-wattage bulbs where safe to do so, and turn off the TV and computer at least one hour before bed.  
  • Don’t read from a backlit device at night. Avoid using your iPad or iPhone before bed. If you do decide to use an e-reader, use one that requires an additional light source such as a soft bedside lamp.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool, and your bed is comfortable. Noise, light, and heat can cause sleep problems. Try using a sleep mask to help block out light.
  • Move bedroom clocks out of view. Anxiously watching the minutes tick by when you can’t sleep is a surefire recipe for insomnia. Light emitted from a clock, telephone or other device can also disrupt your sleep.

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3. Check if your medication is interfering with your sleep

Your medication can be interrupting your sleep. A doctor can recommend adjusting the timing or dose, or possibly switching to an alternative prescription.

Baby boomers and older adults tend to take more medications than younger people and the combinations of drugs, as well as their side-effects, can impair sleep.

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4. Identify underlining problems

Many cases of sleeplessness are caused by underlying but very treatable causes. 

While emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression can cause insomnia, the most common causes in adults over 50 are a poor sleep environment and poor sleep and daytime habits. Try to identify all possible causes of your insomnia so you can tailor treatment accordingly.

  • Are you under a lot of stress?
  • Are you depressed? Do you feel emotionally flat or hopeless?
  • Do you struggle with chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?
  • Have you recently gone through a traumatic experience?
  • Are you taking any medications that might be affecting your sleep?
  • Do you have any health problems that may be interfering with sleep?

If you think your stress levels are what keeps you up at night try following one of these relaxation tips:

  • Keep a journal to record worries and concerns before you retire.
  • On your to-do list, check off tasks accomplished for the day, list your goals for tomorrow, and then let go.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Read a book that makes you feel relaxed.
  • Get a massage from a friend or partner.
  • Use a relaxation technique to prepare your body for sleep.
  • Seek opportunities to talk with a friend or therapist about what is troubling you.

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5. Be more active

Exercise releases chemicals in your body that promote more restful sleep. 

Adding exercise to your life does not necessarily mean signing up for a gym membership. There are countless activities you can do to increase strength, improve aerobic capacity, burn calories, and prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep at the end of the day. Always consult your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program.

Aerobic exercise helps older adults sleep better.  A study by Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University found that aerobic exercise resulted in the most dramatic improvement in patients' reported quality of sleep, including sleep duration, in middle-aged and older adults with a diagnosis of insomnia.

The participants, aged 55 and up, exercised for two 20-minute sessions four times per week or one 30-to-40-minute session four times per week. Participants worked at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate on at least two activities including walking or using a stationary bicycle or treadmill. The regular aerobic exercise improved the participants' sleep quality from a diagnosis of poor sleeper to good sleeper. They also reported fewer depressive symptoms, more vitality, and less daytime sleepiness.

Of course there are other great exercising alternatives that are great for you. You can also try:

  • Swimming – Swimming laps is a gentle way to build up fitness and is great for sore joints or weak muscles. 
  • Dancing – If you love to move to music, go dancing or take a dance class.
  • Taking up lawn bowling, bocce, or pétanque – Variations on throwing a ball on an earthen or grassy court are gentle ways to exercise. 
  • Golfing – Golf is a form of exercise that requires precise, strong movement of particular parts of your body, but which doesn’t require vigorous movement.
  • Cycling or running – If you are in good shape, you can run and bicycle until late in life. Both can be done outdoors or on a stationary bike or treadmill.

But if you have mobility issues, you can exercise from one position, either standing, sitting, or lying down.

Keep in mind that there are sleep problems not related to age

At any age, it’s common to experience occasional sleep problems. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms on a regular basis, you may be dealing with a sleep disorder:

  • Have trouble falling asleep even though you feel tired
  • Have trouble getting back to sleep when awakened
  • Don’t feel refreshed after a night’s sleep
  • Feel irritable or sleepy during the day
  • Have difficulty staying awake when sitting still, watching television, or driving
  • Have difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Rely on sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep
  • Have trouble controlling your emotions

If you suffer from any one of the symptoms above, then we recommend that you contact your sleep physician immediately. 

Sleep technologists, what are some other tips you offer your baby boomer patients to help them to get a better night's sleep?

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