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Getting a good night’s sleep

Created date

May 24th, 2011

Matt Narrett, M.D., is a chief medical officer for Erickson Living and directs the provision of medical care at all Erickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics. He is co-author of Old is the New Young, a guide to successful aging (available on

We all feel better after a good night s sleep, but did you know that a good night s sleep is vitally important for good health? Although results vary, most research indicates that older adults need about as much sleep as everyone else about seven to nine hours a night. As you age, you may sleep more lightly, awaken more often, and nap during the day. A National Sleep Foundation poll of older adults revealed that individuals with more health conditions such as lung disease and memory loss have more sleep problems than those with better health and active lifestyles. Inadequate sleep is also associated with an increased risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. A study published in theJournal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that poor sleep quality was associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, greater pain severity, increased fatigue, and greater functional disability in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Another study found that people who averaged less than six hours of sleep a night had up to a 50% increase in the risk of colorectal adenomas a precursor to cancerous tumors. Clearly, the medical evidence indicates something we all already knew that sleep is important for good health.

Improving your sleep

Set consistent mealtimes to ward off daytime sleepiness after eating. Don t eat large meals before bedtime, but consider a light snack. Avoid caffeine and daytime naps if possible, exercise daily, and create a relaxing nighttime ritual like a soothing bath or reading a good book. Watching TV or using the computer, however, may not be a good idea. Exposure to artificial light between dusk and bedtime may interfere with sleep-promoting hormones, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study. Reviewing your medication regime with your doctor can help you determine if your medications are a problem. Your doctor can make necessary adjustments in both the types of medicines you take as well as when you take them. Perhaps your water pill can be taken in the morning to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the night. To get a better night s sleep, don t take sleeping medications without a careful discussion with your doctor. A recent study showed that adults who take the commonly prescribed zolpidemare at a significant risk for nighttime falls and injuries. It is always best to achieve a good night s sleep through some of the steps described above before considering a sedative. Finally, the best way to know how much sleep you need is to pay attention to how you feel after different amounts of sleep. Do you feel tired after six hours but well-rested after seven? Or do you need eight or nine hours to feel like you are functioning well? There is nothing quite like a good night s sleep. Pleasant dreams. In good health, Dr. Narrett