Our board member, Karen Larkin, is currently working with a research team studying "The Efficacy of Nurse Delivered Brief Behavioral Treatment to Self-Manage Insomnia in Cancer Survivors." Throughout her time at this position she has learned a lot about sleep and has written this blog to share her knowledge.
Many older adults have complaints of difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up earlier than planned. This can be explained as Insomnia. There are many factors that affect our sleep and may not be insomnia. These causes can be attributed to cognitive(mental) issues, medications, environmental and behavioral habits.
Lack of sleep can affect our moods, energy level and how we function throughout the day. If you are not sleeping as you believe you should and it is affecting your daily life it may be prudent to bring this to the attention of your health care provider to rule out any physiological reasons (sleep apnea, parasomnias, restless leg syndrome, pain etc). The health care provider can do an initial evaluation of your complaint, assess your current symptoms and review any prior treatment that has been attempted. Your health care provider may also review your other medical conditions along with your medications to evaluate if either is affecting sleep. Lastly, he/she may ask about your lifestyle and how that may be affecting your sleep. Sleep can be a complicated, but you may be able to change behavior by practicing good sleep hygiene.
Some tips for good sleep hygiene:
1. Go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day, even on weekends and days off!
2. Only try to sleep when you feel tired or sleepy.
3. If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes or more, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting, as this will wake you up even more.
4. Avoid caffeine & nicotine for at least 4-6 hours before bed.
5. Avoid alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before bed. It can interrupt the quality of sleep.
6. The bed is for sleep. Do not use for relaxing, paying bills, eating, reading etc.
7. No naps if possible. If you must make it less than 1 hour and before 3p.
8. Develop your own ritual to help you relax before bedtime. (stretching, breathing exercises)
9. Having a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime (research shows that sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature).
10. No clock watching. Turn the clock around.
11. Use a sleep diary- makes you more aware of how you are actually sleeping.
12. Exercise- Instead of sitting in that chair and watching TV after lunch, go outside and take a walk around the yard.
13. A healthy balanced diet and it is important when you eat.
14. It is very important that your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable for sleeping. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is best, and make sure you have curtains or an eye mask to block out early morning light and earplugs if there is noise outside your room.
15. Keep daytime routine the same. Don’t avoid activities because you feel tired. This can reinforce the insomnia.
As stated above, if sleep is a significant problem in your every day life be sure to let your healthcare provider know! Sleep is necessary and is just as important to address as a fall risk or knee pain when speaking to your doctor.