I often ask my clients if they think they sleep soundly enough. Continued lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can affect health and slow the rehabilitation process.
Sleep deprivation is also linked to fatigue, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, mood swings, and decreased physical abilities. Sleep-deprived seniors are more at risk of having a fall.
The average adult needs about eight hours of sleep a day (which can be a combination of night sleep and day napping).
Do you think sleeping problems are just a natural part of ageing, and you should just put up with them? Guess again. It’s not normal – and you should ask for help because there are things you can do.
Some common sleeping problems – and how to solve them
1.) PROBLEM: “I can’t get settled in bed and I can’t sleep, due to pain.”
Solution: Ask your physiotherapist for a thorough examination, and they will give you some suggestions. However, if the pain is so severe it often wakes you at night, you should see your GP to rule out a serious problem.
Every health professional uses different tools to treat a patient’s pain. If a specialist from a pain clinic said “I can’t help you”, don’t give up. It doesn’t mean you have to bear the pain for the rest of your life. There are always potential solutions.
Stella’s story: One of my clients, aged 84, consulted me for her lower back pain. Her health issues include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, spinal stenosis and sciatica-like pain in her leg. She’d had both knees and her right hip replaced. Every night in bed, she kept tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position. Stella said: “I don’t know where it’s coming from; it’s in my back, my hip and down to my legs”.
Mobility: When she walked, she leaned over her wheelie walker a lot – her back was almost parallel to the ground. She couldn’t get out from a chair by herself. We both had a good chat to identify her biggest concerns. I conducted a thorough examination and provided her with feedback.
Treatment: I was hunting for a pain-free position for Stella and gave her some gentle movements to practise. I also gave her some manual therapy – it’s a hands-on technique to reduce pain – and used dry needles.
Result: After three physiotherapy sessions, Stella said she started to feel a difference. She could settle in bed more quickly. There was no more tossing and turning because the pain had lessened. Eventually, she could get out from a chair by herself. After six to eight weeks of weekly physio treatment, Stella could walk much straighter, and nerve pain referred down to her leg was gone. “I could go out shopping with my husband, which I haven’t done for a long, long time” she said.
Pain isn’t just part of the ageing process. If pain alters your quality of life, it needs to be dealt with.
2.) PROBLEM: “I can’t fall asleep – my mind keeps ticking over.”
Solution: Make it a habit to do any planning before retiring for the night. And only lie in the bed when you feel sleepy.
3.) PROBLEM: “I keep waking up to go to the bathroom.”
If you have to wake up to pass urine more than twice a night, it’s not normal. But there is no need to be embarrassed – help is at hand.
- Ask your pharmacist and GP to review your fluid medications.
- You can also ask your GP if you have a condition called “nocturia”. If needed, they can refer you to the relevant specialist.
- Call the FREE helpline at the Continence Foundation of Australia on 1800 330 066, as you may be suffering from a condition called “overactive bladder”. This great service is provided by practitioners who specialise in issues related to bladder and bowel health.
Other sleep tips
– If you are waking up early, try to have a power nap in the afternoon. The website of the Sleep Health Foundation (see below) has more ideas to improve your sleep.
– Ask your GP about using melatonin instead of taking a sleeping tablet. You can read more about melatonin on the Sleep Health Foundation website.