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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Don't snooze on sleep problems!

Jan 29, 2024 01:58PM ● By Katie Oltz

We spend a third of our lives in the thralls of sleep, hopefully attaining a sense of restfulness and comfort. Sleep is important for a variety of reasons, including consolidating our memories, increasing our daytime alertness and mood, and improving our cardiovascular health. For many individuals, however, sleep is not so restful. 

As we age, changes in sleep patterns are common. Older adults may encounter difficulties such as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep throughout the night, or waking up feeling unrefreshed. Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, can greatly impact seniors’ well-being. In fact, it is estimated that over 50 percent of adults aged 65 and older report sleep difficulties, and about 46 percent of adults ages 65-74 experience insomnia. 

Poor sleep often results in tiredness the next day. It can also trickle into long-term consequences, including decreased levels of happiness and quality of life, increased risk for cognitive difficulties and neurodegenerative disorders, and increased risk for cardiovascular conditions, including type 2 diabetes.

Why diabetes? When we consume food, insulin helps to regulate the amount of glucose in our blood, a sugar utilized by the body and brain for energy. In the case of type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or is unable to use it effectively. As a result, a person with type 2 diabetes may experience physical effects such as high blood pressure, blurred vision and fatigue. It can also lead to more negative long-term impacts, including stroke and heart disease. Additionally, those with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing dementia. 

Older adults with type 2 diabetes typically reported at least one sleep problem, with some facing chronic sleep difficulties like diagnosed sleep disorders. Poor sleep can impact the body’s ability to function optimally, affecting glucose utilization and increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular and cognitive conditions.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes often involves a combination of approaches. Lifestyle modifications, such as dietary changes and increased physical exercise, along with improvements in sleep hygiene, such as minimizing exposure to blue light from devices like cell phones and television, and practicing mindfulness exercises before bed, are often useful starting points to address diabetes management and promote better sleep. 

Additionally, consulting with your primary care provider about medications to manage type 2 diabetes and sleep problems is a common course of treatment for older adults. However, for those wanting to explore treatment interventions that do not involve the use of medications, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is one possibility. CBT-I is a brief intervention that helps older adults identify and alter unhelpful thoughts that may be contributing to their sleep problems and provides useful information on good sleep hygiene practices. In turn, CBT-I may help to improve other health aspects, such as diabetes management. 

Don’t snooze on sleep problems if you are experiencing them! Consult with your primary care provider to discuss next steps. 

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