Do we need the same amount of sleep throughout our lives?
We spend a great deal of our lives sleeping. Infants sleep practically 24 hours a day.
Small children take frequent naps. Youngsters and teenagers sleep about eight or nine hours each night, while most adults can make do with seven to eight hours, sometimes less.
Many elderly people need fewer hours still, perhaps five to six, and also tend to be lighter sleepers.
Why do elderly people sleep less?
Elderly people may not need to, or be able to sleep as much as younger people. This could be because they lead a relatively inactive lifestyle, or they may also be getting more sleep during the day.
What is insomnia?
The term insomnia refers to an inability to fall asleep or to remain asleep for an adequate length of time. This may causes chronic tiredness that badly affects your daily life.
This said, it is important to stress that virtually everybody has problems sleeping at some time or other. Stress, depression and worry are well known causes of insomnia. Illness is another possible cause, especially if there is pain or discomfort.
What precautions should you take when using sleeping pills?
There are many types of sleeping pill available. However, it is important not to use sleeping pills too often. This is because your body becomes dependent on the medicine, and eventually you will find it very difficult to stop taking the tablets.
You may also need to take more and more to achieve the desired effect, because your body becomes tolerant. They may also leave you feeling drowsy and lethargic in the morning.
Good advice for people with insomnia
- Exercise often helps you sleep, but avoid exercising shortly before you go to bed.
- Write down your worries rather than fret about them while you're trying to sleep.
- A warm bath before bed can help.
- Try not to eat large meals before bedtime.
- Drinking alcohol may also disturb your night's sleep, though a small night-cap can help you to fall asleep in the first place.
- Cut down on drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea, cocoa, and cola), especially late at night.
- Make sure you have a comfortable bed. The bedroom itself should be well ventilated and cool and as dark and quiet as possible.
- Don't go to bed until you feel tired.
- Sex just before bedtime can both promote and impede sleep. Men may sleep well after sex, whereas women may liven up.
- Read a book until you feel dozy. Get up again if you are not able to sleep within half an hour. Sit down, read the paper, listen to some music and go back to bed half an hour later.
- Get up at the same time every morning. Set the alarm and get out of bed quickly, even if you have had a late or sleepless night. This way, at the end of the day you'll probably feel tired and sleepy at just the right time. If you do this for a sufficient number of days, you will successfully adjust your inner clock and get tired when you need to.
- For long trips by bus or plane, it might be worth taking a sleeping pill if you expect to have problems sleeping. This should be a fast-working pill with a limited effect - about five or six hours. You will need to consult your GP to get a prescription.
Many people find herbal remedies get them off to sleep better than other treatments - for example using passiflora, valerian or lavender aromatic oils as aromatherapy can aid relaxation prior to sleep. These are more difficult to prove with scientific study - but may reward personal experimentation.
Most people can overcome their insomnia by following the advice above. If this doesn't work, consult your GP.