“Later in life there tends to be a decrease in the number of hours slept,” says Dr. Karen Carlson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of Women’s Health Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital. “There are also some changes in the way the body regulates circadian rhythms,” she adds. This internal clock helps your body respond to changes in light and dark. When it undergoes a shift with age, it can be harder to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
We all have trouble sleeping from time to time, but when insomnia persists day after day, it can become a real problem. Beyond making us tired and moody, a lack of sleep can have serious effects on our health, increasing our propensity for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
If you’ve been having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may have turned to sleep medications in search of more restful slumber. However, these drugs can have side effects—including appetite changes, dizziness, drowsiness, abdominal discomfort, dry mouth, headaches, and strange dreams. A recent study in the British Medical Journal associated several hypnotic sleep aids, including zolpidem (Ambien) and temazepam (Restoril), with a possible increased risk of death (although it couldn’t confirm how much of the risk was related to these drugs).