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Safe Sleep Aids For Seniors

Changes In The Circadian Rhythm

Sleep aids and seniors

One of the major causes of the changes in the way we sleep as we age is our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the internal process that dictates when we sleep.

As people age, if they are not already there, they will often transition to what is known as a morning chronotype. Our chronotype is our propensity to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period.

In Laymans terms, older people tend to be morning people and a lot of this has to do with the change in circadian rhythm. According to studies, adults with a mean age of 68 reports preferred bedtimes 1 to 2 hours earlier than younger people. This is due to a shift in the bodys internal circadian rhythm and is why older people tend to go to bed earlier and rise earlier than younger people.

So, what is the cause of this change?

A University of Kent study shows that aging impairs the circadian clocks ability to reset itself when exposed to light, which is a zeitgeber, or natural external cue that causes our internal biological rhythms to synchronize with the Earths light-dark, 12-month, and seasonal cycles.

This impairment is due to the reduction in sensitivity to light of the suprachiasmatic nucleus , which is a cluster of cells located within the hypothalamus in the brain that reacts to light signals and regulates the circadian rhythm.

Should You Talk To A Doctor Before Taking A Natural Sleep Aid

It is advisable to talk with a doctor before starting to use any natural sleep aid. Even though these products are available without a prescription, your doctor may be able to help by:

  • Reviewing your other medications and the potential for interactions between them and a natural sleep aid
  • Addressing your health history and the likelihood of adverse reactions from natural sleep aids
  • Understanding your sleeping problems and evaluating if they may be caused by an underlying sleep disorder that can be resolved with a more specific form of treatment
  • Discussing the potential benefits and risks of specific types of natural sleep aids
  • Offering suggestions about dosage or timing for taking natural sleep aids
  • Providing guidance about how to know whether a natural sleep aid is working or causing side effects
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Develop Consistent And Healthy Sleep Habits

Building a daily sleep routine, doing things that are beneficial for sleep and avoiding things that are detrimental, and creating a comfortable environment that is conducive to undisturbed sleep are things that every older adult should be doing to ensure they can get enough good-quality sleep.

The following tips and advice are not just for seniors, either a lot of it is common sense that can apply to anyone.

To ensure youre setting yourself up for a restful sleep that isnt going to leave you needing a daytime nap, try the following:

  • Exercise. Staying physically active as we get older can be a challenge. While our bodies may not be quite what they once were after a certain age, thats no excuse not to stay active. Not only can regular exercise help stave off certain diseases, but a bit of extra fatigue can help with getting to sleep at night. As a bonus, exercising outside in the sunlight can benefit the circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
  • Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet. What we eat and drink during the day can have a bearing on our sleep at night. Along with exercise, a healthy diet is good for general health, which in turn can benefit sleep. An improved diet can lead to weight loss, which cuts down the risk of snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, and insomnia. Eating more substantial meals during the day and a lighter meal at night can help avoid issues like reflux, which can cause uninterrupted sleep. Avoid stimulants like sugar and caffeine close to bedtime.
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    Q: Does Melatonin Slow Down Your Metabolism

    Melatonin does not slow down your metabolism. In fact, it can increase fat burning and speed up metabolism to assist with weight loss.

    However, melatonin on its own is not a huge contributor to weight loss and bodyweight reduction, which are achieved with a balanced diet and healthy fitness routine.

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    7 Best Natural Sleep Aids For Seniors / Elderly (100% Safe)

    In a small study of healthy adults aged 55 and older, 5 mg of melatonin increased total sleep time compared to a placebo.

    Researchers from Brigham and Womens Hospital conducted the study in 24 healthy, older adults to evaluate whether a high-dose or a low-dose melatonin supplement could improve sleep. The team found that the higher dose had a significant impact, increasing total sleep time compared to placebo by more than 15 minutes for nighttime sleep and by half an hour for daytime sleep. Results are published in The Journal of Pineal Research.

    Sleep deficiency becomes more common as people age, and, given the drawbacks to many prescription sleep aids, many older adults report taking melatonin, said senior author Charles Czeisler, chief of the Brighams Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. But weve had little evidence on the effects of melatonin on the sleep health of older adults. Our study provides new evidence and insight, and points to the importance of considering dosage and timing when it comes to the effects of supplements like melatonin, especially in older people.

    The body naturally produces the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate a persons sleep-wake cycle with night and day. Melatonin levels peak at night. But among older people, levels of the hormone are often lower. Exogenous melatonin is sold over the counter and can be taken before bedtime as a dietary supplement, usually in the form of a pill or capsule.

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    Assessment And Diagnosis Of Insomnia In Elderly Patients

    There are currently no guidelines that indicate how much sleep is normal for elderly people however, changes that occur and progress gradually as we age are well documented. Healthy elderly people are prone to spending more time in bed, with no additional time spent asleep.20 They are also more likely to spend more time in stage 1 sleep and less time in deep or slow-wave sleep.20 Abnormal breathing events21 and leg movements22 are also more common in the elderly than in younger adults.

    Appropriate recognition of insomnia in elderly patients is vital, as evidenced by the high use of nonpre-scription remedies in this population. A recent survey administered to ambulatory elderly subjects found that 48% had used one or more therapies for sleep within the past year 50% of those therapies were nonprescription products. Of the 27% of subjects who used such products, 19% used acetaminophen, 15% used diphenhydramine, and 13% used alcohol.23

    A few probing questions should be sufficient to detect insomnia , followed by queries into the chronicity and causality of the insomnia complaint. Transient insomnia is defined by problems lasting just a few nights, while chronic insomnia is defined as persistent problems lasting at least 1 month.18

    Sleeping Pills Are Usually Not The Best Solution

    Almost one-third of older people in the U.S. take sleeping pills. These drugs are called sedative- hypnotics or tranquilizers. They affect the brain and spinal cord.

    Doctors prescribe the drugs for sleep problems. The drugs are also used to treat other conditions, such as anxiety or alcohol withdrawal.

    Usually older adults should try nondrug treatments first. According to the American Geriatrics Society, there are safer and better ways to improve sleep or reduce anxiety. Heres why:

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    Is It Safe To Take Sleeping Pills Every Night

    Most experts agree that sleep aids should not be used long-term. Sleeping pills are best used for short-term stressors, jet lag, or similar sleep problems. There is limited evidence on the safety and efficacy of using sleep aids for more than four weeks, but some studies have found that daily use of sleep aids may be linked to a higher risk of mortality. Sleep aids may also affect sleep stages, with corresponding effects on sleep quality.

    Many people develop a tolerance to sleep aids, meaning they need higher doses of the drug over time to get the same effects. This may be accompanied by addiction or withdrawal symptoms, including rebound insomnia, anxiety, irritability, or strange dreams.

    For people with insomnia that resists other forms of treatment, doctors may give you prescription sleeping medication to be taken regularly. To lower the risk of developing tolerance or addiction, doctors may prescribe these long-term sleep aids for only a few nights a week. OTC sleep aids are not intended for long-term use.

    Q: Does Melatonin Cause Weight Gain

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    Lower melatonin levels may lead to weight gain, but taking supplements to increase melatonin may help you lose weight.

    If you have any concerns about your weight or your sleeping difficulties, you can always ask your doctor for weight loss recommendations, as well as how much melatonin to take and for how long.

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    Q: Is It Ok To Take A Melatonin Every Night

    It is okay to take melatonin every night for a few weeks or months, but taking melatonin every night for years on end may lead to side effects and a habit thats hard to break.

    Melatonin supplements are designed to support the bodys natural sleep cycle and melatonin production, and you dont want to disrupt that by becoming dependent on supplements.

    When in doubt, ask your doctor to confirm the best sleep plan for you.

    Q: Who Should Not Take Melatonin

    Anyone who needs to drive or operate machinery within five hours should not take melatonin.

    This supplement causes drowsiness which can last for several hours, and its not safe to drive a vehicle until the melatonin is cleared out of your system.

    People on blood pressure medication should consult their doctor before taking melatonin, and the same for those with seizure disorders.

    Melatonin increases immune function and may cause issues for transplant recipients undergoing immunosuppressive therapy.

    Anyone with bleeding disorders should talk to their doctor, too, because melatonin supplements could lead to more bleeding.

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    Diet Tips To Improve Sleep

    Limit caffeine late in the day. Avoid coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate late in the day.

    Avoid alcohol before bedtime. It might seem that alcohol makes you sleepy, but it will actually disrupt your sleep.

    Satisfy your hunger prior to bed. Have a light snack such as low-sugar cereal, yogurt, or warm milk.

    Cut down on sugary foods. Eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, pasta, and French fries can cause wakefulness at night and pull you out of the deep, restorative stages of sleep.

    Avoid big meals or spicy foods just before bedtime. Large or spicy meals may lead to indigestion or discomfort. Try to eat a modest-size dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime.

    Minimize liquid intake before sleep. Limit what you drink within the hour and a half before bedtime to limit how often you wake up to use the bathroom at night.

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    What Are The Risks

    Are Sleeping Pills Safe For The Elderly

    Sleeping pills can have serious, or even deadly side effects.

    All sedative-hypnotic drugs have special risks for older adults. Seniors are likely to be more sensitive to the drugs effects than younger adults.

    And these drugs may stay in their bodies longer.

    The drugs can cause confusion and memory problems as well as changes in balance that:

    • More than double the risk of falls and hip fractures. These are common causes of hospitalization and death in older people.
    • Increase the risk of car accidents.

    The new Z drugs also have risks.

    Z drugs include Zolpidem and Zopiclone . Studies suggest they have as much or more risk than the older sleep drugs. There are also concerns they may be as addictive as other sedatives.

    Try non-drug treatments first.

    Get a thorough medical exam. Sleep problems can be caused by depression or anxiety, pain, restless leg syndrome, and many other conditions.

    Even if an exam does not turn up an underlying cause, you should try other solutions before you try drugs .

    Kinds of sleeping pills .

    All of these pills have risks, especially for older adults:


    Sometimes medications under the class antipsychotics or antidepressants are prescribed primarily for sleep including:

    Over-the-counter drugs may not be a good choice.

    Side effects of some drugs can be especially bothersome for seniors: next-day drowsiness, confusion, constipation, dry mouth, and difficulty urinating. Avoid these over-the-counter sleep drugs:

    • Diphenhydramine

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    What Are The Types Of Over

    Any adult can buy OTC sleep medications at a store. OTC sleep aids often contain an antihistamine. This drug treats allergies, but it can also make you drowsy.

    Some people take melatonin or valerian supplements to help them sleep. Melatonin is a hormone your body naturally produces that promotes sleep. Valerian is an herb that supposedly aids relaxation and sleep.

    Although these sleep aids are easily accessible, you should check with your healthcare provider before taking them. Drugs in over-the-counter sleep aids can interfere with other medications or make health conditions worse.

    Foods To Prevent Sleep Problems In Elderly People

    Taking care of your food menu can help you get a night of better sleep. Here are some natural sleep remedies for elderly people by changing the food habit.

    • Have Nutrient-Rich Fruits:

    Fruits such as Bananas, Cherries, apples, apricots, peaches etc are excellent promoters of sleep as they contain, melatonin and magnesium.

    • Lean Proteins and complex carbs:

    These are excellent carriers of tryptophan a promoter of sleep, dont have too much protein but include foods that contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and potassium, all of which are good sleep promoters.

    Unsaturated fats are great for your overall health, include walnuts, almonds, cashews, avocados, peanut butter, pistachios etc in your diet. They promote muscle relaxation and hence better sleep at night.

    Avoid too much liquid food before bed, as this can cause you to wake up and they find difficulty to fall back asleep. Also, avoid greasy or spicy foods, excessive sweets, alcohol etc.

    Here are other natural sleep remedies for seniors that you can try without worrying about side effects:

    • Melatonin supplements


    Any supplement is not safe for long-term use, according to studies melatonin must be taken moderately, about 0.1 to .3 milligrams would do the job.

    You can get various melatonin supplements in the market but do ask the help of your doctor in choosing the right on for you.

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    • 5-hydroxytryptophan

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    Are Natural Sleep Aids More Beneficial Than Traditional Sleep Aids

    Natural sleep aids are generally considered safer than OTC and prescription medications. This is because they tend to have fewer side effects than their prescription counterparts.

    Some people worry that using prescription medication can cause them to become dependent on the medication. If this happens, they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they decide to stop using it. They may also have even more difficulty falling asleep after stopping use.

    Using natural sleep aids for a short time typically doesnt lead to dependence. Natural sleep aids have a low risk of side effects or complications when used for a short time.

    Herbs, which are often used as natural sleep aids, arent regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , so you should use them with caution.

    Consult your doctor about any potential interactions between an herb youd like to use and any medical conditions you have or medications youre taking.

    found chamomile tea to be useful in improving the quality of sleep in postnatal women. It also lessened symptoms of depression.

    Although there isnt a typical dose for chamomile, you can use it a few ways:

    • use dried chamomile flowers to make tea
    • steep prepared tea bags sold at your local grocery store
    • inhale or apply diluted chamomile essential oil to your skin
    • apply as a topical plant tincture
    • take in tablet or capsule form

    You may also find that chamomile:

    • aids in digestion
    • relaxes muscles
    • relieves headaches

    Essential oils should never be taken internally.

    Does Lavender Work

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    There have been several studies examining the effects of lavender on sleep, with improvements being noted in mild cases of insomnia. One study, conducted with four geriatric patients who discontinued use of benzodiazepines, found lavender oil aromatherapy to be as effective as the pharmaceuticals to treat insomnia.

    However, most research concluding that lavender is effective at promoting sleep comes from small studies, and broader, well-organized clinical studies are needed.

    Try it or skip it? Using lavender oil orally or in aromatherapy seems to be safe with very little risk of adverse side effects, though little is known about side effects if used during pregnancy.

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    Does Cbd/thc Work

    CBD and THC consumers might swear by it, but research suggests we should remain skeptical. A 2021 study in Addictive Behaviors put it this way: Cannabis users have increased expectations of cannabis being a sleep aid, but few associations exist between cannabis use and sleep outcomesWiniger EA, Hitchcock LN, Byran AD, Bidwell LC.. Cannabis use and sleep: Expectations, outcomes, and the role of age. Addictive Behaviors. 2021 112. . As for CBD, though, a 2019 study in the Permanente Journal found it had a positive impact on anxiety, which could, in turn, help some people with sleepShannon S, Lewis N, Lee H. Hughes S. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. Permanente Journal. 2019 23:18-041. .

    Try it or skip it? Long story short, researchers dont quite know yet. But with the growing acceptance of cannabis in many parts of the country, experts anticipate a lot more high-quality, peer-reviewed research on the topic in the near future.

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