March 2-9 was “National Sleep Awareness Week” and also the week before Daylight Savings Time, when we sprung forward. It is an opportune time to promote increased awareness about sleep, its benefits and sleep disorders.
Sleep needs vary for different age groups and individuals. In most adults, seven to nine hours per night are usually needed for adequate sleep. The benefits are many, including helping us maintain a healthy weight, lower stress and improve mood, concentration, and memory.
While adequate sleep is important for good health, poor sleep is associated with poor quality of life, fatigue, depression, and various health problems.
Unfortunately, many people do not get adequate sleep or have poor quality sleep. Their work and emotional stressors, physical and mental ailments and medication side effects contribute to poor sleep. Many of my elderly patients have insomnia, which is difficulty falling or staying asleep. Consequently, they wake up feeling unrefreshed despite sleeping an adequate amount of time.
Good bedtime habits, known as “sleep hygiene,” is crucial and recommended for all patients regardless of their age. Below are some tips for better, more restful sleep:
• Establish a consistent sleep and wake schedule. This means waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day – even on the weekends!
• Have a regular bedtime “ritual” or activity, such as taking a warm bath or shower or listening to relaxing music. This helps your body begin “winding down.” If you like to read before going to sleep, then do only light reading.
• Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
• Use your bed only for sleep and sex. Do not read or watch TV in bed. Removing computers, tablets and other electronic devices also can be helpful.
• Exercise regularly, but avoid exercising a few hours before you sleep because it can energize and stimulate you, making it difficult to fall asleep.
• Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages several hours before sleep. If you are sensitive to caffeine, then curtail it starting in the late afternoon.
• Avoid drinking too many fluids before bedtime to help minimize trips to the bathroom overnight.
• Maintain your circadian rhythm. Exposure to bright light during the day helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin can also help improve your circadian rhythm.
• Avoid heavy meals before bed. If you are hungry, eat a light snack containing carbohydrates or drink a warm cup of milk.
• Avoid daytime naps. If you must take naps, then limit them to 30 minutes.
Additionally, if you are unable to fall asleep within 20 to 25 minutes, then get out of bed and do something relaxing, such as listening to music or light reading. When you start feeling drowsy again, go back to bed and try sleeping. Repeat this cycle as often as necessary. Doing so helps your body learn to associate your bed as a restful place for sleep, not insomnia.
See your doctor to be evaluated for sleep disorders and conditions, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, which can affect your sleep. For elderly patients, I recommend avoiding sleeping pills, if possible, because they can have adverse side effects, such as falling or increased confusion. If you feel a sleeping pill is needed, please consult your doctor and use the smallest, effective dose.
Additional information can be found on the National Sleep Foundation’s website at www.sleepfoundation.org.
Dr. Hong Phuc-Tran is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, visit uclahealth.org or call 310.319.4371.