Getting enough sleep helps you stay healthy and alert. You should get enough sleep so you don’t wake up ‘tired’ each day.

Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as young adults---7 to 9 hours each night. But seniors tend to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier than when they were younger. Older people may take naps during the day, which can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.

There are two kinds of sleep---REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. We dream mostly during REM sleep and have the deepest sleep during non-REM sleep. As people age, they spend less time in deep sleep, which may explain why older people are often light sleepers.

There are many reasons why people may not get enough sleep at night. Felling sick or being in pain can make it difficult to sleep. Napping during the day can disrupt sleep at night. Some medicines can keep you awake. No matter the reason, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, the next day you may:

Be irritable, Have memory problems or be forgetful, Feel depressed, Have more falls or accidents, or Feel very sleepy during the day. According to the National Institutes of Health, insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults age 60 or older. People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia can last for days, months, or even years.

There are many causes of insomnia. Some of them can be controlled. For example, if you are excited about a new activity or worrying over your bills, you may have trouble sleeping. Insomnia can be a sign of other problems. Or it could be a side effect of a medication or an illness.

Older adults who have trouble sleeping may use more over-the-counter sleep aids. Using prescription medicines for a short time may help. But remember, medicines aren’t a cure for insomnia. Developing healthy habits at bedtime may help you get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep apnea is another sleep disorder. A person with sleep apnea has short pauses in breathing while sleeping. These pauses may happen many times during the night. If not treated, sleep apnea can lead to other problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, or memory loss.

You may have sleep apnea and not know it. Feeling sleepy during the day and being told you snore loudly at night could be signs that you have sleep apnea. If you think you may have sleep apnea, see a doctor.

Restless legs syndrome is common in older adults. People with restless legs syndrome, or RLS, feel like there is tingling, crawling, or pins and needles in one or both legs. It’s worse at night. Moving the legs brings some relief, at least for a short time. RLS tends to run in families. See your doctor for more information and treatment if you have these symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease often changes a person’s sleeping habits. For example, some people with Alzheimer’s disease sleep too much; others don’t sleep enough. Some people wake up many times during the night; others wander or yell at night. The person with Alzheimer’s disease isn’t the only one who loses sleep. Caregivers may have sleepless nights, leaving them also tired for the challenges they face. If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, there are steps you can take for his/her safety and that might help you sleep better at night. Try the following:

Make sure the floor is clear of objects. Lock up any medicines. Attach grab bars in the bathroom. Place a gate across the stairs. Being older doesn’t mean you have to feel tired all the time. There are things you can do to help you get a good night’s sleep:

Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Try to avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening. Develop a bedtime routine. Take time to relax before bedtime. Some people watch television, read a book, listen to soothing music or soak in a warm bath. Keep your bedroom dark, not too hot or too cold, and as quiet as possible. Have a comfortable mattress, a pillow you like, and enough blankets for the season. Exercise at regular times each day but not within 3 hours of your bedtime. Make an effort to get outside in the sunlight each day. Be careful about when and how much you eat. Large meals close to bedtime may keep you awake, but a light snack in the evening can help you get a good night’s sleep. Stay away from caffeine late in the day. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, soda, and hot chocolate) can keep you awake. Drink fewer beverages in the evening. Waking up to go to the bathroom and turning on a bright light break up your sleep. Remember that alcohol won’t help you sleep. Even small amounts make it harder to stay asleep. Try to set up a safe and restful place to sleep. Make sure you have smoke alarms on each floor of your house or apartment. Lock the outside doors before going to sleep. Other ideas are:

Keep a telephone with emergency phone numbers by your bed. Have a good lamp within reach that turns on easily. Put a glass of water next to the bed in case you need a drink. Use nightlights in the bathroom and hall. Don’t smoke, especially in bed. Remove area rugs so you won’t trip if you do get out of bed at night. Don’t fall asleep with a heating pad on; it may burn you. There are some ‘tricks’ to help you fall asleep. You don’t really have to count sheep. Some people find that playing mental games makes them sleepy. For example, tell yourself its 5 minutes before you have to get up and you’re just trying to get a few extra winks. Other people find that relaxing their body puts them to sleep.

If you feel tired and unable to do your activities for more than 2-3 weeks, you may have a sleep problem. Talk to your doctor about changes you can make to get a better night’s sleep.

— Rita Hodges is an Ellis County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service located at 701 S. I-35 E in Waxahachie. She can be reached at (972) 825-5175 or rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu