Getting to sleep and staying asleep can become a problem for single Baby Boomers. The same worries that kept us awake when we were younger, work, family and the state of the world may still be on our mind. Even if you’re retired and work problems are no longer a concern, you find new things to fret about. Whether you’re a man or woman, you have to deal with hormonal changes that affect your sleep and sometimes sleep apnea. I swore when I retired I wouldn’t get up early anymore unless I wanted to do something fun. I plan my appointments, travel plans, and social events for the afternoon whenever I can. Watching late night shows has become a ritual and luxuriating in my comfy bed as long as I want is wonderful, but I still have trouble getting to sleep and with waking up for extended periods at night without an OTC sleep aid.
I know I’m not alone because my friends complain about it too. I live in an apartment with thin walls so I can hear the neighbors preparing for bed and trucks revving their engines in the parking lot. I use silicone ear plugs, lavender aromatherapy, listen to relaxing audio tapes or a white noise machine to help me sleep. Sometimes these work and then there are times when I can’t turn my brain off so I get up and wander through my apartment. I know I shouldn’t watch TV or spend time on my computer near bedtime, but I succumb to their lure. Perhaps it’s time to have a better plan.
According to an article on the website healthy aging for woman baby boomers.com, studies have shown our “sleep efficiency declines as we get older.” We often suffer from more aches and pains so we spend less time in deep sleep and are more prone to wake up in the middle of the night. Even though we spend the same amount of time in bed, we’re getting less restful sleep. We still need the same amount of sleep as we did when we were young so we suffer from moodiness, slower reaction times, memory loss, difficulty solving simple problems, a decline in our strength and coordination and a weakening of our immune system. Long-term sleep deprivation is even linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, weight gain and Alzheimer’s.
In one of my blogs, https://singleboomerlife.com/can-sleep-help-us-age-gracefully/, I gave you suggestions that can help you get a good night’s sleep. Here are a few more you might find helpful.
A Healthy Sleep Routine
- Set an ideal bedtime and stick to it.
- Decide when you want or need to get up. Make sure you have time to get ready and eat a healthy breakfast before you start whatever you need to do in the morning whether it’s at work or home.
- Have dinner 3 or more hours before bedtime.
- Finish your evening events at least a half an hour before bed so you can start your bedtime routine.
- Then hit the sack 8 hours or more before you plan to wake up.
You need to find what types of activities turn off your brain and make you feel sleepy through trial and error. It could be reading, meditating or some of the methods I use. Avoid drinking too much water or eating before bedtime. In the morning get out in the sunlight as soon as you can and get another dose of sun at midday. Avoid long naps, however, a short power nap may give you extra energy so you don’t fall asleep at work or in front of the TV. Exercise, avoid caffeine after noon and don’t overindulge in alcohol at dinner. With this healthy schedule, you should be able to get a good night’s sleep.
Blue Light Blocking Glasses
On January 5th, 2016, Sue Byrne in her article “3 Blue Blockers Put to the Test, light from smart gadgets can keep you awake, but these eyeglasses are meant to guard against that” at http://www.consumerreports.org/eyeglass-stores/3-blue-blockers-put-to-the-test/ reported that LED screens expose us to high levels of blue light. “Exposure to high levels of that light close to bedtime can suppress the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin by the brain’s pineal gland,” says Charles Czeisler, M.D., chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Experts advise it’s best to avoid using all backlit screens like an LCD TV, computer or smartphone 2 or 3 hours before bedtime.
If you can’t or won’t unplug before you hit the hay, several companies offer blue light blockers, glasses that filter out the wavelengths in the blue part of the spectrum. More research needs to be done to assess their ability to accomplish this, but according to reviews on Amazon.com, people who used them found they can fall and stay asleep easier. Consumer Reports tested 3 pairs of glasses in their labs for their ability to block blue light by measuring light intensity at all wavelengths to find out how much each lens absorbed. Only one, the Uvex Skyper safety eyewear (orange tinted), which currently is on Amazon.com, for under $8 cut out almost all blue light. “The Gunnar Intercept gaming glasses (medium yellow), $53, cut blue light by about half, and the Spektrum Pro Blue Light Blocking Glasses (light yellow), $40, cut it by only about a third.” They noted that “none of the blue blockers claim to be medical devices (intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of a disease or condition) and aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.” I ordered the Uvex Safety Eyewear and have used them for a few nights. They aren’t stylish, but they’re light-weight and fit over my glasses.
Set Your Thermostat Lower
A current study said that temperature may have more effect than light on getting a longer, deeper sleep. Dr. Natalie Azar, an NBC Medical Contributor, shared the current medical research that says to sleep in a room that is between 60-65 degrees at http://www.today.com/video/whats-the-best-temperature-for-sleep-and-should-you-wear-socks-630281795901 . Since this may seem cold, she suggests using blankets and socks. The socks will help the blood vessels in the feet open up so your core temperature drops and blood circulation goes to the feet.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
This exercise also called “The Relaxing Breath,” reportedly promotes better sleep. Based on pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that means “regulation of breath” it is described by Weil Andrew Weil, M.D., a leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine as “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system” that eases the body into a state of calmness and relaxation. Kevin Meehan, a holistic practitioner and founder of Meehan Formulations in Jackson, WY says this breathing technique could be effective because it encourages the fast removal of carbon dioxide. “Doing so equates into a better preservation of the bicarbonate pool; our reservoirs for helping maintain an appropriate pH balance”
Weil’s technique is simple and quick. You can do the exercise in any position, but it’s recommended to sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Weil says “place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.” Then follow these steps.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Weil emphasizes the most important part of this process is holding your breath for eight seconds. This is because keeping your breath in will allow oxygen to fill your lungs and then circulate throughout the body. That’s what produces a relaxing effect in the body. You need to practice this twice a day over two months to perfect the technique until you can fall asleep in a minute. Once mastered, it’ll become more and more effective and can also help you deal with anxiety and stress during the day. I tried and it makes me yawn and seems to make me sleepy. Let me know how it works for you.
To find out if you have a sleep disorder, take the quiz at http://claytonsleep.com/adult-sleep-quiz-do-i-have-a-sleep-disorder/.
I was about to post this blog when I saw a report on OTC sleep medications that cited a 2015 Consumer Reports survey of 4,023 adults that found that out of the 20% of the people who took an OTC medication within the past year, 18% said they took it on a daily basis and 41% used the drugs for a year or longer.
The main ingredient, diphenhydramine, can cause constipation, confusion, dizziness, and next-day drowsiness, according to the drug’s FDA labeling. It can also cause the “hangover effect” with impaired balance, coordination, and driving performance the next day. A January 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine said, “the frequent, long-term use of first-generation antihistamines, including diphenhydramine, was linked to an increased risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.” Carl W. Bazil, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Epilepsy and Sleep Division at Columbia University’s Department of Neurology said, “The pills are not ‘addictive’ in the physical sense, but there can certainly be a risk for a psychological dependency.” Sometimes I wonder if everything causes Alzheimer’s disease. Single Baby Boomers, especially those without a family, worry about what will happen to them if they need help in their old age.
Melatonin, a hormone found naturally in the body, regulates sleep-wake cycles. If you have trouble sleeping you may have low levels of melatonin. It’s thought that adding melatonin from supplements might help you sleep. WebMD says it’s a safe long-term, but has a list of side effects and precautions. It doesn’t help me as much as the OTC pills do, but you need to make up your own mind.
So this week I gave up the pills and used some other techniques. The first night I slept 7 hours. The next night I fell asleep, woke up and was up for 3 hours, so I read and then watched an old TV show while wearing my blue light blocking glasses until I fell asleep. The third night I was really tired but couldn’t sleep, so in the middle of the night I took 5 ml. of melatonin and went to sleep. The next night I took another pill and slept even better. Last night I didn’t take any medication and slept 6 hours. My study of the techniques in this blog wasn’t very scientific since I was using them all at the same time and I quit using my usual OTC sleeping pills. You may want to try them one at a time and see which one or ones help the most.
We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. During sleep, our body heals, restores energy, the brain organizes information, solves problems and exchanges chemicals. Single Baby Boomers are responsible for a great deal in their everyday lives. We need to be alert. No one is going to take care of us. Don’t deprive yourself of something that can do so much good for your health. Make sure your nights are truly restful.
Continue the adventure!