What to do when sleep is elusive

Posted Oct. 22, 2013, at 10:12 a.m.

Senior Beat

Carol Higgins Taylor

Eastern Area Agency on Aging

 

Feeling bone weary can take that spring out of your step. And feeling tired when you first wake up in the morning can be frustrating. Sometimes it occurs when you just didn’t get a good night’s rest. But feeling continuously fatigued can have underlying causes.

The best course of action is to call your healthcare provider if your tiredness lasts more than a few weeks. While it’s true that seniors do not have the energy of youngsters, feeling drained all the time is not normal. And there may be a medical reason that needs to be addressed, since fatigue can be symptomatic of a variety of ailments.

Baring any organic reason for your tiredness, the National Institute of Health National Institutes on Aging’s website nia.nih.gov has some simple changes in lifestyle that can help reduce fatigue and get you back to your old self.

Things to try to feel less tired:

• Keep a diary so you can chart times of the day or situations that make you feel more or less tired. This will be a good record for your healthcare provider who then may be able to pinpoint the reason for your tiredness.

• Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise may improve your appetite, energy and outlook. Some people find that exercises combining balance and breathing (for example tai chi and yoga) improve their energy.

• Try to avoid long naps that can leave you feeling groggy in the middle of the day and then may make it harder to fall asleep at night. This is an important tip. I know seniors who nap in the afternoon then complain of sleepless nights. If you must nap, keep it short.

• Another sleep stealer is anxiety. We are living in uncertain times and for seniors, fears about such things as the future, their health and who will care for them as they age, can take a toll. Other causes of restless nights can be depression, grief from loss of family, friends or home of many years, stress from financial problems and feeling as if they no longer have control over their lives.

NIH advises that sometimes fatigue is caused by personal habits, which can be easily changed or modified, for example, staying up past the point of being tired. It’s easy to do, especially when involved in a project or good movie on TV, but ignoring the first signs of being sleepy can backfire. Experts swear by routine: going to bed and rising at the same time daily.

• Trying to relax with a cup of tea or hot chocolate is a great idea except both have caffeine which when consumed late in the day can keep that drowsy feeling from setting in. Try drinking herbal tea instead or other non-caffeinated beverages. And then there is alcohol, which may seem to make you tired but in reality does not provide restful sleep.

In numerous studies, people who volunteer have better health, wellbeing and rest better. The sense of purpose gained from helping someone else alleviates multiple problems. Visit volunteermaine.org for great opportunities just waiting to be filled.

Sleep is an important part of good health and fatigue can steal your quality of life. If staring at the ceiling or listening to the clock tick away the hours, goes from occasionally to the norm, call your healthcare provider. Losing sleep is not a natural part of aging.

Carol Higgins Taylor is the director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 207-941-2865 or visit eaaa.org.

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