Bring it to Barb

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Dear Barb,

Sleep has been a problem and I can’t shut my brain down to fall asleep. I have tried to stay on a bedtime schedule but as I get older I find it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Any suggestions? 

Signed.

Struggling Sleeper

Dear Struggling Sleeper,

The master in your brain will call the shots and drives your circadian rhythm (that’s your 24-hour cycle). It controls things like your body temperature, hunger, and especially sleep. 

The sleep clock is wired directly to your eyes, so light has a big effect. When you open your eyes in the morning, light will flood your brain. It turns certain genes on or off to get you revved up for the day. It also tells your brain to stop making melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy). As the day fades and darkness happens, it flips the melatonin switch back on to set you up for sleep. 

Over half of American adults experience a sleep problem a few nights each week according to the National Sleep Foundation. It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age.

Snoring is the primary cause of sleep disruption for approximately 90 million American adults. Snoring is most commonly associated with a person who is overweight and it often becomes worse with age.

Lack of sleep can cause moodiness, memory troubles, problems thinking and focusing and may lead to weight gain. High blood pressure and a weakened immune system can be due to sleep deprivation. 

Studies also show that chronic poor sleepers may be at a higher risk of developing cancer. Researchers are trying to learn more about the cancer and sleep connection. Until more is known, we should make sleep an important priority.

During the day, you build up a “sleep debt” that helps you fall asleep at night. Naps during the day pay off that debt, interfering with your night sleep. So, limit your nap to less than 30 minutes.

Try going to bed at the same time and putting away your electronic devices an hour before bed. Use curtains to block external light and keep your bedroom temperature down to 65 degrees. Eat a banana; it helps the body relax. Be diligent and give it every effort. Try skipping the coffee after 5 p.m. too. 

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.

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