Sleep is a vital bodily function which we all need in order to rest and recuperate. Possibly the best evidence of this is when you are ill and need more sleep. Although it is quite common to have trouble sleeping at some time in your life, it can make it very hard to go about your daily routine. In order to function to the highest level, an adult needs around 7-9 hours sleep a night, whereas a child needs at least 10 hours. As with most bodily functions, our ability to sleep declines in old age and an elderly person usually sleeps less than 7 hours at night. There is a large variation even within these age ranges between individuals and you are the best person to recognise a change in your sleeping pattern.
Following a bad night's sleep, you can feel irritable, have difficulty concentrating and feel unable to face the demands of the day. More long-term insomnia can cause the development of mental health problems such as depression and subsequent dependence on sleeping pills or alcohol. For these reasons it is extremely important to seek help from someone such as your GP to overcome your difficulty sleeping as soon as possible.
Things you can do to improve your quantity and quality of sleep:
• Relaxation exercises such as breathing techniques and muscle relaxation before you go to bed. Also soaking in a hot bath or having a warm drink can make you feel sleepy.
• Avoid working late because you will be exhausted but may find it hard to ‘switch off’ when it is bedtime.
• Difficulty sleeping can be caused by stress and anxiety so making an effort to reduce stress in your life can improve your sleep. This type of insomnia normally presents itself as difficulty getting to sleep at night.
• Establish a consistent bedtime routine which can help you to relax. Try to go to bed at the same time each night.
• Try not to nap during the day to make sure you feel tired at night and you develop a normal routine.
• Ensure that your bed is comfortable; your room is quiet, at a good temperature and well ventilated.
• Sleep disturbance can be a side effect of several medicines so check with your GP whether this is the case.
• Regular exercise can improve sleep because it promotes calmness and also helps to tire you out physically.
• Limit alcohol and caffeine intake as both can diminish your quality and quantity of sleep. Avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening as it stimulates the brain. Try to give up smoking as this is also a stimulant.
You should consult your GP if:
• Your snoring is affecting your and/or your partner’s sleep.
• You are experiencing any pain which is affecting your sleep.
• You are feeling depressed as depression can disrupt sleep.
Sleep apnoea is a condition where the airways become momentarily blocked which can lead to disturbed sleep. Some of the causes are being overweight, taking medicines which have a sedative effect, the physical structure of your airways, smoking and drinking in the evening. Losing weight, drinking less, avoiding medicines which have a sedative effect and stopping smoking can therefore cure sleep apnoea in many cases. If you have difficulty breathing at night you may find it more comfortable to use extra pillows.
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