By Claire N. Barnes, MA myfavoriteteachersf
It’s 4 a.m. and I’m awake! How many of you boomers have this experience? I have been surprised to learn how common insomnia is among retirees. Forget all the advice suggesting that when you retire, you can sleep more (or longer…. or later). The practical reality is a large percentage of retirees experience insomnia or sleep difficulties.
Although the exact number of boomers and seniors who experience sleep problems is hard to pinpoint, a National Study of our aging population suggests nearly 42 percent of those surveyed have sleep difficulties. Why are so many retirees having insomnia?
When I was working as a nonprofit executive director, I used to blame my sleep disturbances on work-related stress. Some of the stress was positive. It was very common for me to wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with an idea for a grant, a curriculum innovation or a program improvement swirling around in my head. This habit confirmed what brain scientists have learned: creative activity is very high immediately after sleep.
It was just as typical for me to wake up running budget figures in my head, problem solving or strategizing an operational difficulty. Contrasted with the aforementioned creative ideas, it was the organizational challenges that kept me awake.
But insomnia in the aging is a different circumstance with many attributing factors. Before providing the list of those factors, the good news is here: Aging individuals require less sleep. Although you can debate that statement, it appears people over the age of 66 can function on about seven hours of sleep, according to Live Science .
So, what keeps us awake? Here is a partial list of factors contributing to our collective insomnia:
- Medications. As we age, we take more medications that throw off our bio-rhythms.
- Natural aches and pains.The physical inconveniences we could shake off when we were younger now seem to linger and tend to visit us at night when our bodies are stationery with sleep. his reality is made more complex because we are less physically active.
- Our sleep is shallower
- Body Temperature.Hot flashes need no explanation for women. But like all changes in body functions, regulating body temperature as we grow older can become challenging for both genders.
- Over consumption of alcohol or caffeine during the day.
Maya Angelou wrote “There are some nights when sleep plays coy” Here are some ideas for you to consider if you are experiencing the coyness of elusive rest:
- Avoid excessive use of alcohol. Yes, that night-time cocktail might help you drift off, but it could disrupt your sleep over the long term.
- Our mothers and grandmothers believed a hot bath and warm milk were good for sleep.
- Limit use of electronics in bed. The need to continually check emails, messages and the Internet — complicated by the beam of light from electronic screens — disrupt the ability to rest. And the pinging of electronic notifications on the nightstand keep you in a heightened state of alertness.
- If you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, resist the urge to struggle. Instead, breathe quietly and pay attention as you inhale and exhale. This is a light form of meditation, which often helps a person relax.
- Take a power nap. You’re not working now and you have the time to do it. The power nap helps you gear up for activities for the balance of the day.
- Exercise. Not only will regular exercise keep your body flexible, it will tire you out. Get off the couch and away from the computer. Walk, run, swim… do something besides sedentary engagement with electronics.
Like all new experiences at the boomer time of life, preparing for and embracing changes, rather than resisting them, leads to a smoother transition. When you are awake, rest assured, you are not alone.