Harvard Women’s Health Watch says people who are lacking sleep “perform worse on daily tasks, are moody and irritable, and have a higher risk of getting into an accident than those who get their full eight hours of rest.” It can also lead to obesity, hypertension, stress and even cancer in the long term. Insomnia can be caused by underlying illnesses like thyroid disorder, anxiety, depression, arthritis, or asthma.
The need for more sleep increases as a person is deprived of sleep in previous days, causing a sleep debt. Although a person may get used to sleep deprivation, judgments, reaction times and other functions are impaired. Aging humans continue to need the amount of sleep they needed in early adulthood, but they tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter periods.
About half of people aged 65 years and older experience sleep issues like insomnia. Their deep sleep stages shorten and some completely stop. Medications may be one cause and the prescribing physician should be consulted.
Drowsiness during the day is a symptom of lack of sleep. Routinely falling asleep within five minutes of lying down or very brief sleep episodes in an awake person are symptoms of severe sleep deprivation or a sleep disorder. People may not even be aware of the microsleeps since sleepiness has become a norm in stressed western societies.
When having trouble sleeping, try some of these foods first:
- One of the few foods containing melatonin is oats. As humans age, their melatonin level drops off causing insomnia. Since the amino acid tryptophan also makes people sleepy, adding a cup of warm milk to a half cup of oatmeal plus a teaspoon of honey, which is a natural relaxant, makes a great combination for sleep promotion.
- The highest amount of melatonin is found in sour cherries and research by the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests an 8-ounce glass of tart cherry juice drunk two hours before going to bed will fight age-related insomnia.
- Potassium stimulates deep sleep or slow-wave sleep and magnesium induces sleep so bananas are a great choice for going to sleep and staying asleep. Combine half a banana with about an ounce of almonds which are heavy in magnesium and tryptophan.
- Other food sleep aids are eating rice and beans for dinner four hours before bedtime, or a small snack of cheese and a few crackers at least a half hour before sleeping.
- Watch the attached video for a couple other foods to try.
There is also a treatment called chronotherapy in which the sleep cycle is shifted in small increments. For about a week, delay bedtime by three hours. Get a full night’s rest and continue the pattern until the preferred bedtime is reached. It must become a habit to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, including weekends.
If these eating and sleeping habit changes do not help, see a sleep specialist who may recommend a sleep study and find it necessary to sleep with a CPAP machine for sleep apnea. The FDA has also approved the American Sleep Association oral appliance which readjusts the position of the lower jaw forward, opening the back of the throat and reducing sleep apnea and snoring symptoms.
A physician may also recommend a laser procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty for sleep apnea to remove excessive tissue at the back of the throat, or removal of tonsils and adenoids.