En español | I seldom give advice that I don't follow myself, but on the matter of sleep, I confess: I could do better. Like most medical residents, I learned to function on little or no sleep. Yet the fact is, most of us need seven or eight hours of sleep a night. Even one sleepless night can reduce attention and memory up to 50 percent, increase insulin resistance (making you more prone to diabetes), and cause moodiness.
Nearly half of older adults experience insomnia at least a few nights a week. One of three problems is usually to blame: changes in sleep architecture (the unique pattern of brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tension we experience during sleep), increased use of medications, and higher prevalence of chronic diseases.
Let's start with sleep architecture. As we age, our sleep patterns often are disrupted, for reasons not fully understood. We may take longer to fall asleep, or we may wake up more frequently during the night. Some older adults experience advanced-sleep-phase syndrome, during which we become tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning, most likely because of changes in our response to light exposure. One remedy: Remove all light in your bedroom. This will prompt the pineal gland — a pea-size gland in the middle of the brain — to produce enough melatonin to help you sleep.
Second, certain medications — in particular, antidepressants, heart and blood-pressure drugs, and allergy meds — can interfere with sleep. If you think your drugs could be stealing your sleep, check with your pharmacist or doctor to see if there are alternatives.
A new study shows older adults can improve sleep quality by adhering to consistent daily routines — advice I should follow myself. Just let me sleep on it first.
"Feel Your Best" by Dr. Mehmet Oz appears in each issue of AARP The Magazine.
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