When counting sheep gets old

11 ways getting older gets in the way of a good night’s sleep — and 8 tips for getting back to sleeping like a baby

There’s not much worse than waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep. You change positions. You try to clear your mind of the things on your to-do list. Maybe you’ve got heartburn or restless legs syndrome and can’t get comfortable.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

The National Sleep Foundation says people age 65 and older need seven to eight hours per night. However, nearly 45 percent of older people experience interrupted sleep at least a few nights per week.

Scott A. McClure, director of Norton Sleep Centers, says older individuals tend to experience lighter stages of sleep versus a complete cycle of light sleep, deeper sleep and active dreaming (or REM sleep).

McClure says this may happen to aging people because of:

Hormone changes:

  • Melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep onset, can be affected by how much you watch TV or use a computer or other electronic device during the evening 
  • Menopause, which can lead to hot flashes and night sweats


Health issues:

  • Chronic pain 
  • Medication use 
  • Urge to use the bathroom in the middle of the night


Lifestyle factors:

  • Decreased physical activity 
  • Less structure in the day after retirement 
  • Poor diet


Sleep disorders:

  • Insomnia 
  • Restless legs syndrome, a nervous system condition that creates urges to move your legs 
  • Obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep

As for getting that good night’s sleep, McClure recommends these tips:

  • Stick to a wake and sleep schedule, even on weekends. 
  • Practice a bedtime ritual that will help you wind down. 
  • Avoid napping during the day. If you need a nap, do it early in the evening and for no more than 30 minutes. 
  • Exercise every day. 
  • Be sure your bedroom is cool (ideally 60 to 67 degrees) and free from light and noise. 
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows (mattress lose support after nine to 10 years). 
  • Stay away from caffeine, cigarettes and heavy meals in the evening. 
  • Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bed.

If these don’t help, McClure says it might be time to see a sleep specialist. That’s especially important if you have high blood pressure or a history of heart disease, which may put you at risk for obstructive sleep apnea.

For more information on Norton Sleep Centers or to get a referral for sleep testing, call (502) 629-1234.


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