Can Sleep Help Us Age Gracefully?

What can single Baby Boomer do to age gracefully? Sleep

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book. ~Irish Proverb

Have you ever tossed and turned in bed with your mind racing, worrying about things that’ve happened during the day?  Usually they seem worse than they really felt earlier.  Then you drift off into a fitful sleep.  You may be lucky enough to make it to REM sleep, Resting Eye Movement Sleep-when you should be getting your most restful sleep, and you have a disturbing dream.  You wake up feeling frightened and have even more trouble getting back to sleep.  If you live alone, this can be frightening even if you like having that big bed to yourself.  If this seems familiar to you, then you’re among the millions of single Baby Boomer who have sleep problems.

Insomnia and sleep disorders have been a topic discussion for people of all ages.  In early adulthood a crying baby is usually the cause.  Later in life we can’t sleep because we’re waiting up for that baby who’s now a teenager.  Work and other stressors often affect our ability to get to sleep and stay asleep.  Aging can also be a factor as Baby Boomers are affected by menopause and other hormonal imbalances, illness, pain and sleep disorders such as; sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

If we want to age gracefully, we need restful sleep just as much now as we did when we were younger.  There’ve been many treatments for insomnia used over the years.  Here are some that Baby Boomers find helpful.  You need to decide what works best for you.

Environment

Room temperature can affect your sleep.  If you’re going through menopause, you want it cool or even cold to help with night sweats.  As you age, warmer rooms seem more comfortable since your body can’t regulate its temperature as well.

Your bed can be your best friend or worst enemy.  Back problems make a comfortable bed a necessity.  There are so many options out there like beds that adjust to help with acid reflux, snoring and other things that disturb your sleep.  If you can’t afford these beds, using something to elevate the head of your bed such as cement blocks or special pillows can help.  I like my Sleep Number Bed, because I can change it with the press of a button from firm to soft.  It has options for cooling and warming and now one that allows you to raise the head of the bed.  It’s also easy to move since it’s filled with air, a real plus for a wanderer like me.

Light, both natural and artificial, can affect your sleep.  Some people like total darkness while others can’t sleep without a television on.  A TV, computer or anything with a screen should be turned off at least an hour or two before trying to sleep.  Even LED clocks and other lighted devises can ruin your sleep.  Reading is the best option and if you still can’t sleep, then getting up and leaving the bedroom to do something calming may help.

Noise from other people in the house, neighbors, pets and traffic can interrupt your sleep.  I wear silicone ear plugs and a use a fan, because once I wake up it may take me hours to get back to sleep.  White noise machines help, I’m told, but my fan does the same thing and keeps me cool.

Pets can keep you awake.  Single Baby Boomers who sleep alone may think that it’ll be comforting and restful to sleep with a pet.  Even though I succumb to the soft fur and purring of my cat, I hate it when she walks over me in the middle of the night and thinks that the early morning hours are meal time.  Dogs need to go out.  I can’t even imagine going outside in the middle of the night for a potty call.  That would definitely wake me up, even in a warm climate.

Work should stay out of your bedroom.  Even if you work at home keep work supplies, especially computers, in another room.  Your bedroom should be for sleep.  Even if you’re retired, surfing the web and Facebook won’t help.  You need to calm your mind and avoid the light emitted from the screen.

Sleep Aids

Prescriptions drugs have been around for a long time and may be helpful.  Often they become less effective as time goes on.  Other prescription drugs can also interfere with these medications and affect your sleep. You should always discuss their use and side effects with your doctor.

Natural and herbal sleep aids have been researched for years, but none are regulated by the FDA and no real claims can be made as to their effectiveness.  Melatonin seems to be used the most.  According to http://www.webmd.com, “Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the center of your brain. Melatonin regulates the body’s circadian rhythms. Those are daily rhythms such as your sleep-wake cycle. The levels of melatonin in the blood are highest prior to bedtime.”  It’s probably been the most studied sleep aid, but even though it naturally occurs in the body it does have side effects such as; waking in the middle of the night and morning grogginess.  It also shouldn’t be taken for more than 3 months.  For generations people have believed that a glass of warm milk can help.  Milk contains tryptophan, a biochemical substance necessary for the formation of serotonin, which regulates mood and sleep among other bodily functions.  Drinking milk or eating other foods rich in carbohydrates like turkey, eggs, nuts and beans to boost this neurotransmitter in your brain can’t hurt you, but tryptophan supplements have been found to cause a syndrome with features of the disease scleroderma, which exhibits skin tightening, pain in the joints, muscle aches and weakness in some people. Anxiety, depression, difficulty learning and possibly death can also result from to its use.  Valerian and chamomile supplements have been studied and may help you get to sleep, but also come with their share of side effects and risks.  Herbal teas made from chamomile, lemon balm, valerian root, catnip mint and other herbs may provide some relief, but more research is needed.  The Mayo Clinic warns that herbs and heart medications may not mix.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used to lull you to sleep.  Some people believe that counting backwards, praying, taking calming breaths, positive visualizations, progressive muscle relaxation or keeping a sleep diary can help.  You can purchase CD’s that help with falling asleep and even self-hypnotism.  I’ve found that anything that slows down your racing thoughts is worth trying.

Finally, before getting into your comfy bed avoid exercising, excessive fluid intake, especially alcohol, several hours prior to bedtime and caffeine after noon.  Yes, that means chocolate too.

No single Baby Boomer wants to lose their health or youthful appearance early due to lack of sleep.  Next week I’ll discuss nutrition. If you have any other suggestions or advice, please let my other readers know here or on my Facebook Page, Single Boomer Life.

Here’s to making every night a restful one.

Linda Lea

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