While there is a lot of scientific debate and still much to be discovered regarding why we sleep and what happens when we’re sleeping, there’s one thing we can all agree on: sleep is important. And while we may not understand everything about sleep, we know that a lack of sleep can cause problems, including trouble thinking and concentrating, a higher risk of accidents and injuries, moodiness, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, weight gain and so much more.
On the other hand, getting a good night’s sleep comes with a lot of benefits. For example, one of the more recent developments in brain research is the discovery that, during sleep, a drainage system in our brains called the glymphatic system clears out and recycles any waste toxins that may have built up throughout the day. Research has also shown that, during sleep, our brains organize the chaos of the day’s activities, cataloguing important events, discarding those that are not important and creating memories. Plus, just lying still and resting your body gives it a chance to repair itself from the daily wear and tear of life.
On a more practical level, however, for many people the biggest mystery they deal with every night is why they can’t fall asleep. In fact, nearly half of all people over 60 suffer from insomnia and don’t understand what’s causing it. Here are five of the most likely causes:
- Persistent pain. Sometimes, as we age, it feels like our pain gets worse at night. For diabetics, tingling and shooting pain in the feet seems to flare up. If you have back pain, you feel it more acutely and have trouble getting comfortable. In most cases, it’s not that the pain gets worse, it’s because in a dark, silent room, you have nothing to distract you so it’s more noticeable. Talk to your doctor about treatment that doesn’t include drugs, like heat, massage or acupuncture for lower back pain.
- Too much junk food. Junk food and fast food contain huge amounts of sugar, salt, fat and cholesterol. Because sugar is a stimulant, it can cause problems with falling asleep if you consume too much, or if you consume it right before bedtime. Plus, it can increase insulin resistance and cause inflammation. In general, processing unhealthy food requires a lot of energy from your body, which can keep you up or prevent you from getting the restful sleep you need.
- Too many sleep meds. Many sleep medications, both prescription and over-the-counter meds, can help you sleep, but the sleep is less restful so you may not feel as well rested in the morning. Plus, if you use them consistently for a long time, it might be difficult to fall asleep without them.
- You take a beta-blocker or SSRI. These can be beta-blockers for hypertension like labetalol and propranolol, asthma medications like theophylline and corticosteroids or SSRI antidepressants, including fluoxetine or sertraline, all of which can prevent sleep. And some over-the-counter pain medications contain caffeine, the same stimulant found in coffee. Fortunately, there are alternatives to many of these medications that don’t prevent you from sleeping, so talk to your doctor.
- Sleep apnea. Many people think they couldn’t possibly have sleep apnea because they don’t snore or they’re not overweight. Not true. In fact, insomnia can be an indicator of sleep apnea. If you’re frequently tired during the day, sleep apnea could be the culprit and you should discuss it with your doctor.
Getting enough sleep is one of the keys to enjoying life and maintaining good health as you age. The list of benefits from sleep for your brain and body is a long one. That means it’s absolutely worth it to discuss your options with your physician. Feel free to contact us for an appointment so we can help you with a solution.