By Dr. Ailin Oishi-Stamatiou
An average adult requires around 7.5-8 hours of sleep a night to function. Some need more and some need less depending upon the individual and determined by genetics and the environment. The amount of sleep adults are actually getting today has declined compared to the past with the increase in demands and stress from the modern lifestyle. In the 1960’s people reported getting 8-8.5 hours of sleep a night compared to the 7-7.5 hours or less we are getting today.
As we age the quality and quantity of sleep declines due to the natural aging process, changes in circadian rhythm, from various pains and discomfort and health problems. Sleep problems like insomnia, sleep apnea, circadian rhythm disturbances, and restless leg syndrome tend to get progressively worse with age, pregnancy and menopause. As your health worsens so does your sleep and vice versa. In general, elderly people need 30-60 minutes less sleep then younger people.
The elderly have a tendency to develop something called advanced sleep-phase syndrome, in which the rhythm of their circadian clock is off like that of a young child/infant. They go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier along with multiple episodes of interrupted sleep. This leads to more naps during the day to make up for a full nights rest further screwing up your sleep cycle.
One way of resetting the clock is to get some sunlight/bright light late in the afternoon or early evening combined with vigorous exercise no later than 5 hours before bedtime and mild exercise and stretching no later than 4 hours before bedtime. This helps push back the circadian clock to help you sleep later and wake up later. If you do take a nap, make sure it is less than 1 hour in duration and before 3pm at the same time each day.
Keeping a consistent sleep ritual is important. Get up and go to sleep at the same time every day. Keep to a regular schedule for medications, meals, naps, exercise and other activities. Before bedtime participate in a relaxing pre-sleep ritual like: meditation, listening to music, reading or taking a warm bath. Make your sleeping environment peaceful and quiet by eliminating noise distractions, minimizing light and setting a comfortable temperature between 18-22 Celsius dependent upon your core body temperature and comfort level.
Experiment with different mattresses, pillows and blankets for optimal comfort. Use earplugs or eye shades if necessary. Avoid stimulants like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. Satisfy hunger craving by eating a light snack before bedtime. Avoid heavy large meals or spicy food just before bedtime. Dinner should be eaten 3 hours before bedtime to prevent indigestion. Limit liquid intake within 90 minutes before bedtime to prevent multiple nocturnal bathroom trips.
The bedroom is for sleep and sex. It is not an office. Remove all electronic distractions. Don’t sleep within 3 meters of electromagnetic radiation energy, i.e. alarm clocks, cordless telephone, radio.
Keep a sleep log to record patterns of your sleep and any disturbances to help figure out a possible cause.
Some herbal remedies like: melatonin, kava kava, valerian, chamomile tea have been linked with helping insomnia as well as acupuncture treatments.
Try alternative options before turning to medications. Treat sleep problems with relaxation techniques, yoga, improving your sleep routine and by creating a peaceful sleep positive environment in your bedroom.
Some educational self-help resources that may be helpful.
1. Charles Morin’s Relief from Insomnia, 1996.
2. Hauri and Linde’s No More Sleepless Nights, 1990.
3. Ancoli-Israel’s All I Want is a Good Night’s Sleep, 1996.
Dr. Ailin Oishi-Stamatiou, BSc Hons, DC, is a licensed and registered chiropractor who practices in Leaside, Toronto. She is bilingual in Japanese and English. More info at: www.droishi.com