by Mary Wright, RN, health educator at North End Waterfront Health

This week (March 2-6) is National Sleep Awareness Week. Everyone needs between 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Why we need sleep: 

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  • The body and brain need rest.
  • It prepares body for the next day.
  • The brain uses the time to sort and store information, replace chemicals, and solve problems.

As people age their sleep patterns may change, but older adults still have the same requirement for sleep as younger people. Older people tend to nap more, get sleepy earlier in the evening, and wake up earlier in the morning. These habits make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

Older adults may wake up more often to use the bathroom. They may also have health conditions such as heartburn, arthritis, menopause, or cancer, which may cause pain or discomfort. Lung disease and heart failure can also make it harder to sleep. Stress can be a factor in getting enough sleep.

Signs of insomnia: 

  • Waking up tired
  • Waking up many times during the night
  • Waking up early and being unable to get back to sleep
  • Taking a long time – more than 30-45 minute – to fall asleep

Lack of sleep can cause: 

  • Depressed mood
  • Attention and memory problems
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • More nighttime falls
  • Increased use of over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids
  • Low energy
  • Problems thinking
  • Delayed response time
  • Car accidents
  • Inability to complete normal tasks after 2 days without sleep
  • Hallucinations after 5 days without sleep

Tips for a good night sleep:

  • Establish a ritual for bedtime, like brushing your teeth and washing your face.
  • Set a schedule: go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on weekends.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
  • Avoid eating or drinking alcohol or caffeine right before going to bed.
  • Exercise: try to get 20-30 minutes a day at least 5-6 hours before bedtime.
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