How to Conquer Insomnia

The most common sleep problem in adults age 60 and older is insomonia. People with this condition have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia can last for days, months, and even years. There are many reasons why older people in particular may not get enough sleep at night. Feeling sick or being in pain can make it hard to sleep. 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

Insomnia takes different forms. Having trouble sleeping can mean you take a long time to fall asleep; wake up many times in the night; wake up early and be unable to get back to sleep; wake up tired; or feel very sleepy during the day.

Often, being unable to sleep becomes a habit. Some people worry about not sleeping even before they get into bed. This may make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Some older adults who have trouble sleeping may use over-the-counter sleep aids. Others may use prescription medicines to help them sleep. These medicines may help when used for a short time. But remember, medicines aren’t a cure for insomnia.

Tips to Help You Fall Asleep

You may have heard about some tricks to help you fall asleep. You don’t really have to count sheep—you could try counting slowly to 100. Some people find that playing mental games makes them sleepy. For example, tell yourself it is 5 minutes before you have to get up, and you’re just trying to get a little bit more sleep.

You may find that relaxing your body puts you to sleep. One way to do this is to imagine your toes are completely relaxed, then your feet, and then your ankles are completely relaxed. Work your way up the rest of your body, section by section. You may drift off to sleep before getting to the top of your head.

Use your bedroom only for sleeping. After turning off the light, give yourself about 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you’re still awake and not drowsy, get out of bed. When you feel sleepy, go back to bed.

If you consistently feel tired and unable to do your activities, you may have a sleep problem. Talk with your doctor about changes you can make to get a better night’s sleep.

For more information about sleep habits, visit the website of the National Sleep Foundation ( or call 703-243-1697.

Reprinted courtesy of the National Institute on Aging (



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