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Categories > Sleep Disorders > Fighting fatigue

Rest easy—your good night guide
Sleep and aging
What’s wrong?
Getting your zzz’s

When to call your healthcare provider
When to call your healthcare provider

Don’t assume that a good night’s sleep is a thing of the past. See your provider if…

  • you’ve been sleeping poorly for a month or more
  • drowsiness prevents you from carrying out your daily routine
  • you’re unusually tired during the day

TIP: Before your appointment, ask your spouse or other family member to observe you while you sleep. They should notice if you snore. And if you do, does it build to a crescendo that ends in a gasp or snort? Do your arms and legs flail around?

Other sleeping snags
Other sleeping snags

  • Advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS). This is marked by an increasingly earlier bedtime. Someone with ASPS may be unable to stay up after 7 p.m., even though he or she would prefer to remain awake.
  • Periodic limb movements (PLM). These involuntary muscle spasms cause the arms and legs to jerk about during the night. Frequently, a person with PLM is unaware of the spasms but may report insomnia or feel very tired during the day.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS). People with RLS feel a “crawly” sensation in their legs that’s relieved only with movement. Because RLS usually gets worse at night, it keeps many sufferers from getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Dream disturbances. During periods of dreaming, or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, some people can be found on their feet, or worse, falling down stairs or walking into furniture. Fortunately, the drug clonazepam helps relieve this problem, which is most common in men older than 50.

The neighbor’s dog barks and you’re up. The sound of a distant car alarm rouses you. Even the gentle tick-tock of your bedside alarm disrupts your shut-eye from time to time. What’s worse, once you’re awake, going back to sleep is no easy feat.

Sleep and aging

If your nights aren’t what they used to be, chalk it up to getting a little older. With age, sleep may not come as easily, you may find you’re quick to awaken during the night and it may seem harder to get back to sleep. On the other hand, if you’ve heard that we need less sleep as we age, don’t believe it. What’s true: Periods of continuous, uninterrupted sleep tend to get shorter.

While some changes in sleeping patterns are to be expected over the years, others are not. You shouldn’t have trouble getting to sleep every night, for instance. Nor should you be so sleepy during the day that you can’t carry out daily activities. Nodding off while reading or watching TV is nothing to worry about, but fighting fatigue during most of the day is cause for concern.

What’s wrong?

If you’re drowsy all day long, sleep apnea could be the reason. People with this serious disorder experience interrupted breathing as they sleep—a problem they may not even be aware of. Because their struggle for air causes them to awaken briefly but frequently throughout the night, they are unable to reach the deepest, most restful stages of sleep. As a result, they feel extremely sleepy during the day.

Losing sleep may also be a sign of anxiety or depression. Other illnesses, certain medications, alcohol and pain can also be obstacles to a good night’s sleep (see box at right).

Getting your zzz’s

If getting to sleep is a nightly battle, try these tips.

  • Stick to a schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at about the same time each day, including weekends.
  • Establish a bedtime ritual. Whether it’s taking a warm bath, eating a light snack or reading, set a pattern that tells your mind and body it’s time to slow down in preparation for sleep. (Don’t go to bed if you’re wide awake.)
  • Skip the nightcap. Don’t have an alcoholic drink within two hours of bedtime. While alcohol may make you drowsy, it prevents you from reaching the most restful stages of sleep.
  • Ditch the caffeine. Forget coffee, chocolate, tea, soda and cocoa after 3 p.m. Caffeine lingers in your system for as many as seven hours after ingestion.
  • Reserve the bedroom. For sleeping and sex, that is. Don’t eat, watch TV or linger in bed more than you have to. By the same token, don’t sleep anywhere else but in bed (that includes naps).
  • Nip the naps. You don’t have to nix them altogether—just keep naps under a half-hour.

If sleeping problems persist, see your healthcare provider. Before recommending treatment, he or she may suggest you spend a night in a sleeping lab.