Insomnia is a common complaint among caregivers and older adults. Many assume that getting older or caring for a loved one automatically equates to not sleeping well.  However, illness, inactivity, poor sleep habits, and the inappropriate use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, rather than age, are the major causes of sleep problems.  Fortunately, proper medical care and changes in sleep habits can often bring about a good night’s sleep without the need for sleeping pills.

There are some myths about age and sleep, and there is the realty of age and sleep.

 

Myth

Reality

Your brain and body are doing nothing while you sleep

Both the structure and function of the brain and body undergo active repair during sleep.

Everyone needs 8 hours of sleep a night.

Although the average is 8 hours some people need 7, some need 9

Older people do not need as much sleep as young adults

Older people do not sleep as deeply as younger persons but the need for sleep does not decline with age.

You can make up for a bad night’s sleep by napping during the day

A brief nap might temporarily but persistent sleepiness during the day may mean you need to see your doctor.

If you do not feel refreshed in the morning, spend more time in bed.

Spending extra time in bed will interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Everyone snores and there are no health consequences.

Snoring is not normal and can be a sign that your airway is obstructed, preventing adequate oxygen to your heart and brain

Once you start taking sleeping pills you can never stop.

Sleeping pills are safe and effective for shirt-term use. Cognitive behavioral therapy can successfully help you reduce or eliminate reliance on sleeping pills.

It is your age not your illnesses that determine how well you sleep.

Sleep inevitably changes with age but most loss of sleep quality in late life is due to illness or bad habits.

Most insomnia is caused by worry.

Anxiety and depression do cause insomnia but so do arthritis, heart disease, and dementia, each of which is treatable.

A glass of wine or some other kind of “night cap” at bedtime will help you sleep.

Alcohol is initially sedative but has a stimulate effect later in the night.  It also interferes with deep sleep and dreaming.

Medications are the best way to counter a sleep problem.

Changes in sleep=related habits and attitudes are at least as effective as medications.