How Older Adults Can Improve Sleep Without Drugs

Non-medication-based sleep habits are the first choice for improving sleep in older people.

The statement comes from Dr. Preeti Malani, MD, director of the National Poll on Healthy Aging Team, chief health officer and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan.

The university this month released its findings from the National Poll on Health Aging, a survey sponsored in part by the University of Michigan, the universitys Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and AARP and conducted by GfK Custom Research, LLC.

In short, too many older adults are not sleeping well; theyre taking too many prescription and over-the-counter drugs to remedy the problem; and probably most hazardous of all, they arent telling their doctors about any of it. See Part I of this series on Health Aging and Sleep for poll results.


The National Institute on Aging of the NIH gives some helpful advice on getting a good nights sleep.

Being older doesnt mean you have to be tired all the time, the institute states on its site. You can do many things to help you get a good nights sleep.

The NIA suggests seniors:

Follow a regular sleep schedule which means getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, including weekends, holidays and when traveling. Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, if you can. Develop a bedtime routine which may include taking time to relax before bedtime each night by reading a book, listening to soothing music or soaking in a warm bath. Try not to watch television or use your computer, cell phone or tablet in the bedroom. The light from these devices as well as any alarming or unsettling content may make it difficult to fall asleep. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and as quiet as possible. Use low lighting in the evenings and in preparing for bed. Exercise at regular times each day but not within 3 hours of bedtime. Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime. They can keep you awake. Stay away from caffeine late in the day. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate) can attribute to trouble falling asleep. Alcohol, even in small amounts, make it harder to stay asleep.

According to the NIA, insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults age 60 and older. People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The condition can last for days, months and even years. According to the NIA, if you feel tired and unable to do your activities for more than two or three weeks, you may have a sleep problem. Sleep problems can include:

Taking a long time to fall asleep. Waking up many times during the night. Waking up early and being unable to get back to sleep. Waking up tired. Feeling sleepy during the day.

And being unable to sleep can become a vicious circle or even a habit because a person worries about not sleeping even before they get into bed, which may make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

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