(This post originally appeared in the Peace Arch News)
I am a 78-year-old woman and my husband died last year. I’m getting used to living alone and have wonderful friends and a very supportive family. My only problem is that I’m having trouble sleeping at night. I can’t seem to fall asleep and then I wake up a number of times during the night. I don’t want to take sleeping pills but wondered if there is anything else I can do to improve my sleeping.
I’m glad that you’re doing so well adjusting to living alone and I think I can help you with your sleep. You are very wise to avoid sleeping pills as they frequently cause more problems than they solve.
Your problem sleeping is shared by many; lack of sleep has become epidemic in our society and is increasingly common as we age. There are many causes for poor sleep, some of which need medical assessment, but mostly our ability to sleep well is within our control. Without knowing more about your physical and emotional health, here is a safe and proven framework for sleep. If you are not sleeping well after implementing this, a visit with your physician is warranted.
A good night’s sleep is all about optimizing your behaviours and environment to fit your body’s natural rhythm.
As humans we have evolved to be awake when it is light and to sleep when dark. Supporting this circadian rhythm are a cascade of different hormones that signal the body to be alert or sleepy. Our days start with a morning burst of the stress hormone cortisol, signalling that it is time to get up and greet the day. Over the course of the day our cortisol wanes, until in the evening our body releases melatonin to signal that it is time for sleep. Along with melatonin, levels of adenosine in the blood also tell us that we are tired. Adenosine is a by-product of energy expenditure – the more active we are the greater our levels of adenosine.
Aligning our behaviors to our body’s hormonal symphony is relatively straight-forward:
First, avoid substances that will alter hormones and affect your sleep:
What do you do if this doesn’t work?
This is where sleep restructuring comes in:
At Wellness Garage we are here to support you in your health journey to take control of your health, restore confidence, and optimize your wellness. We do this through solid evidence-based medicine, personal health coaching and instruction, providing you with the knowledge, skills and support you need to apply healthy habits to your life.
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Dr. Brendan Byrne