For many adults, falling asleep or staying asleep gets harder as you get older. If erratic sleep interferes with your ability to do your normal daily activities, it’s called insomnia.
If insomnia is a problem for you or someone you love, there are some things you can keep in mind.
- Some medical conditions such as anxiety, restless leg syndrome, acid reflux, asthma or use of certain medications can lead to trouble sleeping. A health care provider can help you treat these conditions in order to help you sleep better. Talking with a therapist can also be helpful.
- You can try some sleep hygiene techniques to help you get a better night’s sleep. For example, try to sleep on a regular schedule, avoid napping, eat a healthy diet, get regular daytime exercise, avoid caffeine, nicotine or alcohol before bedtime and don’t stimulate your brain by using devices with a screen.
If you still have trouble sleeping, there are prescription and over-the-counter medications which are sometimes used to help treat insomnia. However, all of these medications have a risk for unwanted effects and have been shown to increase sleep time by only minutes. Due to the risk of unwanted effects, the American Geriatric Society recommends that some of the medications used to treat insomnia should be avoided in adults over the age of 65. There is also a risk for unwanted effects in younger people.
If you are prescribed a medication such as eszopiclone (Lunesta®), zolpidem (Ambien®), zaleplon (Sonata®), or temazepam (Restoril®), it is generally recommended to use these as little as needed. Talk to your provider about the safety of continuing to use the medication.
Start by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. It’s the first step in healthy sleep hygiene.
Reference: S. Schutte-Rodin, L. Broch, D. Buysse, et al. Clinical guideline for the evaluation and management of chronic insomnia in adults. J Clin Sleep Med. 2008; 4(5): 487-504.