An old Irish proverb says, “a good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book”.  Sleep at times is the best medicine and sleep is essential for staying healthy.

Older adults need about 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but for many reasons they may often be sleep deprived.  Sleep deprivation may be caused by day time napping, anxiety, sleep apnea, movement disorders such as restless leg syndrome, medications, or dementia. 

Symptoms of sleep deprivation include irritability, fatigue, blurred vision, memory lapses and inability to concentrate.  Physical symptoms may include bags or dark circles under the eyes, eyelid twitching, and unsound sleep.   In the extreme, hallucinations may occur.   

Risks of sleep deprivation include: a decreased ability to fight infection, heart disease (48% greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease), high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, an increase incidence of accidents, impairment of attention, alertness, concentration, judgment, reasoning and problem solving.  Lack of sleep contributes to depression, aging of the skin, anxiety, forgetfulness, weight gain, and ability to interpret the significance of events. Sleep maybe the fountain of youth but unlike that elusive natural wonder, sleep can be found and embraced.

There are many tips to get better nights sleep.  Most important is to minimize sleep during the day. A short daytime nap may be beneficial but multiple naps or extended day time sleeping affects the quality and quantity of the primary sleep period.  Developing habits around bedtime, waking hour, regular exercise, and starting a relaxing bedtime routine help to maximize sleep.  Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and large quantities of liquids and food should also be avoided close to bedtime.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Safe sleep is just as important and good sleep.  When getting up in the middle of the night from a sound sleep, disorientation, low blood pressure or generalized weakness may develop. Keep a phone and emergency phone numbers close to the bed, use a nightlight in the bathroom, remove area rugs and get up slowly making sure strength and balance are present before walking.  Falls are the leading cause of injury related visits to the emergency room with most of them happening at night.

Sleep is not a problem for some.  My dad would put his head down and he would be out.  He stayed busy during the day, either mentally or physically, took a short afternoon nap in his most senior years, and had a regular night time routine; a successful formula that lasted for 90 years.  As I lay awake at night, I wonder how I never learned this lesson from him.