Insomnia is often a problem for seniors. The first reaction of some people to confront this problem is to take a sleeping pill.
For seniors, however, taking sleeping pills may not be a good step, especially if they are taking other medications. Beyond that, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal showed that the most common prescribed sleeping medications have little more than a placebo effect in helping people to sleep. About 20% of persons who took sleeping medications reported side effects, in addition to the falls that seniors have been known to experience while taking these medications.
A better solution is to make sure a senior has access to a natural setting. A recent study at the University of Illinois that was reported in Preventive Medicine found that people (particularly men and seniors) sleep more soundly when they live near and have access to natural settings like parks and beaches.
Persons who participated in the study, who struggled to sleep well on most nights of a month, were found to live far from natural areas like these. Since the study showed much stronger results for men, Professor Grigsby-Toussaint, the author of the study, theorized that women, out of fear for their safety, may not access parks or beaches as frequently as men do, especially for exercise by themselves.
The researchers did not distinguish between simple access to these locations or if the exercise in parks and along the water’s edge is the reason why seniors sleep better when they live near these areas. However, the link was very strong, so caregivers should remember that seniors who can access natural places sleep more soundly at night. Taking a walk around these settings is optimal.
Getting enough sleep is crucial to all persons’ good health. Professor Grigsby-Toussaint noted that sleep deficits are associated with decreased cognitive function and increased mental and physical health problems.
Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine notes that insufficient sleep has a negative impact on recall and leaves a person fuzzy, unable to focus, inattentive, and off his or her game and guard. The consequences to seniors is easy to imagine. Sleep helps brains rest; it literally eases the burden on exhausted neurons. When our neurons malfunction, we can’t put information stored in our brains together properly to use it in good decision-making. Nor can we recall things we already know.
Fortunately, science (and common sense) point to a solution for the complex problem of senior insomnia: a walk in the park!
Huedo-Medina,T. B. , Kirsch, I., Middlemass, Klonizakis, J.M., Siriwardena, A. N. (2012).Effectiveness of non-benzodiazepine hypnotics in treatment of adult insomnia: meta-analysis of data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. BMJ, 2012; 345 (dec17 6): e8343 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e8343.
Preidt, Robert. Natural Surroundings May Promote Sound Sleep. Health Day News. MedlinePlus. September 20, 2015. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Available online at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_154725.html.
Sleep, Learning, and Memory. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation. Available online at http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory.