Losing Sleep Over Sleep?

Once you reach age 45 and approach your ‘fragile 50’s’ health issues and medications can cause problems with sleep. Sleep issues can also add to health issues. Being prepared for the consequences of aging will ease your mind so you can get better sleep.

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Losing Sleep Over Sleep?
6 Min Read October 15th, 2015 Updated:May 16th, 2022

As people get past age 45 and reach the "fragile 50's", sleep and health issues become more common. If you see the news, you will hear stories about various health problems that will afflict those in their 50s and beyond. Then there is depression and anxiety that seem to become common as well - perhaps too much news is causing the depression?

You might be losing sleep with worry. Should you lose sleep worrying about losing sleep? Is not getting enough sleep harmful to your health and well-being? Will it make aging even harder?

Longevity has become a problem. With more years to live, just getting older can reduce the quality of our life. Sleep, lack of it, and poor quality of sleep can have a considerable impact on our well-being.

WebMD says more than half of men and women over 65 complain of at least one sleep problem. Many older people experience insomnia and other sleep disorders regularly.

Sleep Patterns Change with Age

Our sleep patterns tend to change as we age. Most people say it became more challenging getting to sleep as they got older. They wake up more often during the night and get up earlier in the morning. Some people are more prone to falls which can cause long-term health care issues, ER visits, and even death in older people.

Total sleep time stays the same or slightly decreases (6.5 to 7 hours per night). It may be harder to fall asleep, and you may spend more total time in bed. The transition between sleep and waking up is often abrupt, making older people feel like they are a lighter sleeper compared to when they were younger.

Less time is spent in deep, dreamless sleep. Older people average three or four awakenings each night. They are also more aware of being awake.

Older people wake up more often because they spend less time deep sleep. Other causes include needing to get up and urinate (nocturia), anxiety, and discomfort or pain from chronic illnesses.

Is it Aging or Health That Causes Sleep Issues?

Is it the aging process itself that causes issues with sleep? An article in the New York Times suggests it is not aging but health issues and medications to treat those issues that may be the primary cause.

The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep." "If you look at older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.

Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry and a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego 

Pain and Pain Meds

Pain and pain medications are examples that can disrupt sleep. The AARP listed on their website, www.aarp.org, the top ten medications which cause sleep issues:

1. Alpha-blockers – These medications are used to treat things like high blood pressure (hypertension), benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and Raynaud's disease. Examples: alfuzosin (Uroxatral), doxazosin (Cardura), prazosin (Minipress), silodosin (Rapaflo), terazosin (Hytrin) and tamsulosin (Flomax).

2. Beta-blockers – They are used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), angina, migraines, and tremors. atenolol (Tenormin), carvedilol (Coreg), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), propranolol (Inderal), sotalol (Betapace), timolol (Timoptic) and some other drugs whose chemical names end with "-olol."

3. Corticosteroids – These types of medications are used to treat conditions like inflammation of the blood vessels and muscles as well as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjögren's syndrome, gout, and allergic reactions. Examples: cortisone, methylprednisolone (Medrol), prednisone (sold under many brand names, such as Deltasone and Sterapred) and triamcinolone.

4. SSRI antidepressants - SSRIs (selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors) are used to treat symptoms of moderate to severe depression. Examples: citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva) and sertraline (Zoloft).

5. ACE inhibitors - Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and other conditions. Examples: benazepril (Lotensin), captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), fosinopril (Monopril), lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), moexipril (Univasc), perindopril (Aceon), quinapril (Accupril), ramipril (Altace) and trandolapril (Mavik).

6. Angiotensin II-receptor blockers (ARBs) – They are used to treat coronary artery disease or heart failure in patients who can't tolerate ACE inhibitors or who have type 2 diabetes or kidney disease from diabetes. Examples are: candesartan (Atacand), irbesartan (Avapro), losartan (Cozaar), telmisartan (Micardis) and valsartan (Diovan).

7. Cholinesterase inhibitors – These are commonly used to treat memory loss and mental changes in individuals with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. Examples include: donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne) and rivastigmine (Exelon).

8. Second-generation (nonsedating) H1 antagonists - H1 antagonists, which are in a class of drugs commonly known as antihistamines, inhibit the body's production of histamine — the chemical that's released when you have an allergic reaction. Second-generation H1 antagonists, also known as nonsedating antihistamines, do not have the same side effects as first-generation antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which suppress the central nervous system, causing severe drowsiness. Examples of second-generation H1 antagonists include: azelastine (Astelin) nasal spray, cetirizine (Zyrtec), desloratadine (Clarinex), fexofenadine (Allegra), levocetirizine (Xyzal) and loratadine (Claritin).

9. Glucosamine and chondroitin – These are dietary supplements that are used to relieve joint pain, improve joint function and lessen inflammation. (Both are found naturally in the human body.) Many arthritis supplements contain glucosamine and chondroitin, both of which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as a food rather than a drug.

10. Statins – These drugs are used to treat high cholesterol. Examples include: atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor).

Actions to Take to Improve Quality of Life

Better sleep means better health; however, health issues, especially those that develop once we hit our 'fragile 50s, cause sleep issues that can make our overall health issues worse.

You can take measures to help you sleep and improve your quality of life:

1. A light bedtime snack may be helpful. Many people find that warm milk increases sleepiness because it contains a natural, sedative-like amino acid.

2. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine (found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate) for at least 3 or 4 hours before bed.

3. DO NOT take naps during the day.

4. Exercise (moderately) in the afternoon.

5. Avoid too much stimulation, such as violent TV shows or computer games, before sleep. Practice relaxation techniques at bedtime.

6. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each morning.

7. Use the bed only for sleep or sexual activity.

8. Avoid tobacco products, especially before sleep.

9. Ask your provider if any of the medicines you take may affect your sleep.

If you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity, such as reading or listening to music.

When you feel sleepy, get back in bed and try again. If you still cannot fall asleep in 20 minutes, repeat the process.

Drinking alcohol at bedtime may make you sleepy. However, it is best to avoid alcohol because it can make you wake up later in the night.

Prepare for Aging and Declining Health

Paying attention to your overall health as you pass age 45 and making appropriate retirement planning to address the physical, emotional, and financial issues that come with aging, health, and long-term health care will also make you sleep better.

Things to make sure you do:

1. See your doctor regularly.

2. Contribute to your employer's 401(k) or 403(b) plan.

3. If you have an HSA (health savings account), contribute the maximum allowed.

4. Pay attention to the investments in your retirement accounts and make sure they are balanced based on your age.

5. Obtain Long-Term Care Insurance in your 40's or 50's when you are healthy, and premiums are very affordable.

6. Sign a medical and financial power-of-attorney and let your family know of your wishes.

Good luck as you get older, get your sleep, and plan well to enjoy a future successful retirement. 

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

There is a good chance you will need help with daily living activities or supervision due to dementia. Aging happens. Aging has consequences. Beat aging to the punch by being prepared.

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