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BEACON Senior News

Don't snooze on sleep problems!

Feb 19, 2024 12:06PM ● By Katie Oltz

We spend one-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. 

While changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging, older adults may experience challenges with falling asleep, staying asleep throughout the night or waking up feeling unrefreshed. It’s estimated that over 50% of adults aged 65 and up report sleep difficulties, and approximately 46% of those aged 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 heightened risk for cardiovascular conditions, including Type 2 diabetes.

Why diabetes? When we consume food, insulin helps regulate the amount of glucose, a sugar that the body and brain uses for energy, in our blood. However, Type 2 diabetes is a health condition where the body is unable to make enough insulin or unable to use it properly. As a result, a person with Type 2 diabetes may experience high blood pressure, blurred vision and fatigue. It can also lead to more 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 experience at least one sleep problem, which can impact the body’s ability to function optimally. This includes effectively using glucose, as well as increased risk of developing cardiovascular and cognitive conditions.

Treatment for these issues often involves a combination of approaches. Lifestyle changes, such as dietary modifications and increased physical exercise, along with sleep hygiene adjustments like reducing exposure to blue light (from cell phones and television) and practicing mindfulness exercises before bed, are often effective starting points for managing diabetes and improving sleep quality.

Discuss with your primary care provider the appropriate medications for managing Type 2 diabetes and addressing sleep problems.

However, some individuals may prefer to explore non-medication-based treatments.In such cases, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a viable option. CBT-I is a brief intervention that helps older adults identify and change unhelpful thoughts contributing to their sleep issues, while also offering guidance on good sleep hygiene practices. 

In turn, CBT-I may help to improve other health aspects, including diabetes management. 

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

Katie Oltz, B.A.S. is a UCCS clinical psychology master’s student. For more information about the article or her research study, contact her at [email protected].

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