Part 6- Management of Loss of Sleep at Old Age

More than the loss of sleep the problem of old age is disturbed sleep. They wake up easily and have more frequent breaks in the sleep. Even small noise can wake them up. Deep sleep becomes less and less. People find more difficulty in settling down to sleep – it takes longer compared to the young group. However, they enjoy day naps.

When a child is born, it sleeps for 23 hours – only waking up when it is hungry. Gradually with age, the sleep keeps on decreasing 20 hours, then 15 hours and ultimately by the age of 18 our sleep requirement becomes about 8 hours. After the age of forty, the normal sleep time may further decrease to 6 hours and by the age of 60 years, it maybe 5 hours only. But it varies from individual to individual. The body takes as much as it requires. Our habits also guide the sleeping hours. Some people sleep for 10 hours and still feel tired and many busy people can manage with 4-5 hours for years on. However, when you cannot even sleep for four hours it is of concern.

The common cause of sleeplessness is stress. It may be from shortage or mismanagement of money, fight in the family, someone getting ill or died, some problems in work. More use of tea and coffee, heavy meals, new place to sleep, traveling may make it worse. Alcohol intake may cause early rising in some. Irregular working hours also can lead to sleeplessness. The overuse of sleeping pills can also lead to sleeplessness. Obese people can get something called Sleep Apnea, disturbing sleep.

Self Management

Best is to maintain a regular time of sleeping and waking up. The mind cycle is set up accordingly. Avoid sleeping in the daytime, and even if you feel sleepy make in less than 30 minutes. Go to the bed when you feel sleepy. If the sleep does not come, get up and do some boring job – like reading a topic from the magazine which does not interest you or is very complicated; chanting in mind some mantra (Japa) or do meditation. When you feel sleepy – then sleep again. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, or heavy meals near bedtime. Cutting down of stress is recommended and not always possible. Good exercise habits and whole day busy work can lead to better sleep.

Medical Management

Only visit the physician when your sleep is badly disturbed for over a month and is interfering with your work during the daytime. Sleep specialist doctors are also now commonly found. They may take a history from you, your spouse and may conduct a sleep study in the hospital. The most common sleep medicine is Benzodiazepines – which can be long-acting and short-acting. The long-acting ones lead to drowsiness even during the day working like hangover. So, let your doctor decide whether you need it or not. If it is acute stress leading to sleeplessness – medicines can be taken. However, do not get addicted to it. If you really require it, still SAAOL suggests that you keep it below your pillow – and try to sleep. If you cannot get sleep in the next, half an hour take the pill and do not worry – sleep.