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Are you in the dark about sleep?

Karin Haugrud, for "Seniors on the Move" column

Complaints of sleep troubles are especially common among the older adults. One out of every two seniors suffers from sleep deprivation — and the debilitating and dangerous side effects of daytime drowsiness according to the Better Sleep Council.

Myths about sleep and seniors are masking a serious health problem. Contrary to common belief, aging does not cause sleep problems. Nor do seniors need less sleep as they grow older. These untrue but prevalent myths may result in a society that ignores seniors' sleep deprivation and its harmful effects. While seniors need for sleep does not change with age, their sleep patterns do. A biological clock that controls sleep naturally advances a few hours as a person grows older. When that happens, older people may feel sleepier earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. By observing their sleep patterns and making lifestyle changes, seniors can help keep their internal clocks on time and overcome sleep problems. Losing sleep at night results in a 24-hour problem for older adults. When seniors don't get the sleep they need at night, daytime drowsiness dulls the senses and saps energy, impairing the ability to perform normal activities — such as driving a car or concentrating on a task — and increasing the risk of having or causing accidents. Catching up on sleep by napping during the day isn't always a good idea either because it disrupts normal sleep patterns, making it harder to sleep well at night. Sleep experts caution seniors to limit naps to 30 minutes or cut them out completely. What a person does during the day and his or her sleep environment are critical to getting a good night's sleep. By staying active, tackling intellectual tasks and exercising regularly are ways to combat sleeplessness.

Older adults also need to watch what they eat and drink. Eating foods and drinks that contain caffeine-such as coffee, tea, chocolate and sodas in the evening can interfere with your sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed makes it harder to sleep as well. Some widely used medications can have stimulating effects and cause sleep disruption. Included among them are some antidepressants, and decongestants. Nighttime use of diuretics can promote repeated sleep interruptions to go to the bathroom. It is important to look at the bedroom for potential sleep problems. A good sleep environment is one that is quiet, dark and on the cool side. Make sure to check your mattress too. If it is lumpy, saggy or worn, it may be part of the problem. People who share a bed with a spouse who are restless, snore or have an illness are likely to be sleep deprived. Talk with your partner about their nighttime sleep habits and be sure to consult with your physician. Instead of staring at the ceiling, move to a separate room to get some shut-eye so both of you can get some rest. By learning the facts about aging and sleep, older adults can get out of the dark and get some rest!

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