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January 21, 2014

Staying Healthy with a Good Night’s Sleep: 5 Tips from Dr. Lal Arora

On October 14, dozens of Kendal at Home members gathered at the Mustard Seed Market & Café in Solon, Ohio, for Healthy Aging Day, the kick-off to Kendal at Home’s yearlong Healthy Aging initiative. There, Lal Arora, M.D., Kendal at Home Medical Director, addressed a packed room of older adults highly interested in discussing one thing: sleep.

As we age, it’s not uncommon to experience changes in sleeping patterns. The reason why, says Dr. Arora, is changing levels of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone secreted from the pineal gland that is intimately involved in regulating sleep and waking cycles. “Melatonin varies during the day in our system: It’s at it’s lowest level in the morning and the highest level at night while we are sleeping,” Dr. Arora explained. “The idea of this hormone is to have us fall asleep and to increase the duration of sleep.”

He continued, “As we grow older, melatonin is not as efficient. We begin to have difficulty falling asleep, and we don’t maintain our sleep as well. We wake up and fall asleep, wake up and fall asleep.” That’s why many older adults consider adding a melatonin supplement to their daily routine.

  • Speak with their geriatrician before adopting a melatonin supplement
  • Take only the recommended dosage (Taking too much really isn’t helpful, he said, and can cause side effects like lack of energy and sleepiness the next day)
  • Take it just before your normal sleep time in dim or no lighting

But the conversation didn’t end there. Dr. Arora continued the topic of sleep aids, saying, “We have all gotten into this philosophy of, if we can’t sleep, we take some pill. It’s much better if you can sleep without them.” He said there are many natural means in which older adults can get more and better sleep. His top suggestions include: 

  1. Drinking a warm glass of milk before bed: “If you can get by with drinking a glass of warm milk, that still works, and it’s still worth trying,” he said.
  2. Exercising in the morning or during the day: Unless you are performing a relaxing breathing exercise like tai chi, Dr. Arora advises to exercise in the morning hours or during the daytime, not before you go to bed.
  3. Skipping afternoon coffee: Some estimates show caffeine from coffee can stay in your system anywhere from 8 to 14 hours, which is why Dr. Arora advises older adults either skip their afternoon coffee—or switch to decaf.
  4. Avoiding alcohol as a sleep aid: “Alcohol is not a sleeping medication,” Dr. Arora said. “When you drink alcohol, it puts you to sleep, but three or four hours later, our metabolism is different, but the alcohol is gone.” He advises older adults limit their alcohol intake as much as possible as it is not safe when mixed with other medications.
  5. Turning off electronic devices: Do you like to watch television just before going to bed? Or do you read your nighttime novel on an electronic reader, such as a Kindle? That’s a bad move, according to Dr. Arora. “It’s better to just turn the electronics off to let your mind go to sleep.”

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