Twenty percent of people get less than six hours of sleep. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Any less than this can cause increased stress and a depressed immune system and can make one cranky and irritable. It also puts one at increased risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Insomnia becomes more prominent as we age, which is unfortunate, because older people still need as much sleep as younger people do. Aging causes a change of sleep patterns, leading to a lighter, less restful sleep. Decreasing physical and social activity and an increase in chronic health problems also contribute to less sleep.
These are some causes of insomnia:
- Anxiety and depression
- Medications, such as heart and blood pressure drugs, steroids, decongestants and weight-loss products
- Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
- Medical conditions, such as chronic pain, frequent urination and sleep apnea
- Changes in environment or work schedule
- Eating and drinking too much late in the evening
Nonprescription-medication remedies should be tried first.
Be consistent with the time you go to bed and when you wake up. Don’t nap more than 30 minutes a day, and preferably do it before 3 p.m.
Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature. Don’t linger in bed if you can’t sleep.
Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Avoid large late meals.
A recent study found that most adults who did aerobic exercise four times a week dramatically improved their sleep.
Learn relaxation techniques.
Limit the time you spend in bed, and associate your bed and bedroom only with sleep.
See a therapist who specializes in insomnia, who may provide a cure for insomnia and not just treat the symptoms with medication.
Melatonin and valerian are over-the-counter supplements that are marketed as sleep aids. They may be worth a try; however, some studies have shown them to be no more effective than a placebo and their long-term safety record isn’t known.
Prescription sleep aids can be very effective in many cases, but they should be used for as short a time as possible, because longer-term use is thought to contribute to other health problems.
Sleeping pills also have side effects, such as drowsiness, impaired judgment, depression, agitation and balance problems.
If you are not getting the good night’s rest you deserve, see a doctor who can help to treat and guide you to having a more restful and satisfying sleep.
- Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website, valleydoctor.wordpress.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.