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Caring for Parents, Keeping Them Healthy

(continued)

Sleep and Older Adults continued...

Older adults should avoid oversleeping in the morning. It leads to having trouble falling asleep later, and the cycle of insomnia begins.

If Dad can't fall asleep within fifteen minutes of getting into bed, suggest he get up for a while and do something calming, and then try again later.

Don't take sleep disruption lightly. It can be caused by an improper dose of medication, an illness, or a psychological problem. Talk about it with your loved one's doctor. Many drugs, including Halcyon and even the antidepressants that are supposed to make her life better, can cause terrifying nightmares.

If your father wakes with night terrors, be reassuring. Show him that there's no danger nearby, but avoid arguing. If he insists that something (or someone) woke him, let him know that whatever the trouble was, it's gone now.

People of any age who have difficulty sleeping should avoid exercise in the late afternoon and evening. Try morning walks instead.

Avoid caffeine, not just in the evening but at any time of day. Aside from coffee, tea, and cola, look out for caffeine in chocolate, non-cola soft drinks, and some pain relievers. And while decaffeinated coffee has less caffeine than regular, it's not caffeine-free.

Alcohol can make your senior drowsy at first, but it hurts healthy sleep in the long run by disturbing the sleep cycle, making sleep less restful, and making him more likely to wake up during the night.

As with practically everything, "A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures."
-Irish proverb

Maintain a sleep diary to note sleep patterns. The doctor will find this information useful if you need to consult with her, and you might discover patterns you weren't aware of: Is sleeping a problem the night before the family comes to visit? Is this about anxiety or excitement? Visit the National Sleep Foundation for more information.

If there are serious issues that require discussion, don't bring these up right before bedtime. Avoid arguments.

Some people swear by a teaspoon of honey in a cup of hot water before bedtime. Others go for warm milk with a little cinnamon. But if liquids are a problem before bed, find a different solution. A foot bath or massage right before bed can help.

Get dark-lined (blackout) shades for people who don't sleep well, and block out disturbing noise with a fan or a white noise machine. Some models have a choice of sounds that mimic ocean waves, the patter of raindrops, and other soothing sounds.

Aromatherapy using lavender candles and potpourri can be very relaxing. Try a couple drops of lavender oil in a bath or on the corner of your parent's pillow. You can even buy soft microwavable products that warm up potpourri inside. 

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