Sleep Tips, As We Age

Getting a good night's sleep gets even more important as we get older.

An estimated 50 million to 70 million Americans suffer from insomnia and other sleep problems.

And on The Early Show Thursday, AARP The Magazine Editor Steve Sloan had some advice to help you get more shuteye.

He told Russ Mitchell we require as much sleep in our later years as we did when we were younger. It's commonly believed that we need less sleep because people in middle age are more likely to have trouble sleeping, he pointed out. But it's not true that you need less sleep.

A good night's sleep is more important to our sense of well-being in the short term than it is to our health, he continued. It feels terrible when you miss a night's sleep, but it won't kill you.

Long-term, it can lead to health issues if you keep missing sleep.

"Short-term," he said, "you feel drowsy and not clear-headed; driving and operating machinery can be dangerous. Long-term effects include depression and anxiety, congestive heart failure, hypertension and even obesity. It is a health hazard."

What causes insomnia? That's an umbrella term for trouble falling or staying asleep, Slon pointed out. There are a lot of causes, from worrying about not sleeping, to stress, to eating too much or too little before bed, drinking too much alcohol, caffeine, side effects from common medications, and more.

Not everyone needs eight hours of sleep a night, Slon noted. One thing to know when trying to correct the problem is how much sleep you actually need. Some people need nine-plus hours, though seven to eight hours is pretty common. Some people say they can survive on four hours, but Slon says he doesn't necessarily believe it. In doing your calculations you must determine how much is "real sleep" as opposed to just lying in bed.

And napping's not a great idea, Slon says. "For someone who is anxious about getting a regular and good night's sleep, don't nap: It creates a ripple effect. If you fall off your schedule, don't try to catch up by napping, because it throws that night's sleep schedule off.

There are several over-the-counter drugs available to help people sleep, but, said Slon, if you don't want to use drugs, there are some things can do on your own to help get a good night's sleep:

  • Keep the room dark: The thing that tells your body it's nighttime is when it's dark. Get blackout drapes or an eye mask. Even a little bit of light can send the message to your brain to wakeup.
  • Control the room sounds: If you're a light sleeper, the slightest noise will wake you up. If your mate snores, change rooms; if there's street noise, close windows. But any sound that you find soothing, such as background white noise from a machine or tapes of calming sounds, may help relax you.
  • Limit Bedroom Activity: Don't do anything in bed but go to sleep. Get rid of television, computers, books. Don't eat in bed. You should sleep and have sex in the bedroom, period.
  • Create a Sleep and Wake Schedule: Pick the time you want to go to bed every night and wake up every morning, including weekends, and stick to it. If you mess up that strict schedule, don't try to catch up.