It’s 2:30 a.m. and once again, you’re wide awake, mind racing. (Did you finish that project at work? Did you lock the front door? Is the oven still on?) In your younger years you slept just fine, but as you’ve gotten older, sleep has gotten more elusive.Lululemon
This lack of sleep impacts more than just your mood the next day — it also can have some pretty unpleasant consequences for your finances, says Dr. Namita Joshi, medical director of Somerset Medical Center’s Sleep for Life Center in Somerset County, New Jersey, which treats sleep issues. Insomnia causes the average American worker 11.3 days in lost productivity each year, according to the American Insomnia Study. For a self-employed person who earned $300 a day, that would add up to almost $3,400 a year in lost income – bad news for a boomer trying to shore up a retirement nest-egg.
Other costs are less direct, but potentially just as steep. Older men who don’t get enough quality sleep are at a higher risk for high blood pressure, according to a study published in the journal Hypertension, and having that condition hits the average afflicted individual with $1,131 per year in additional medical costs, according to a study from Purdue University. And a study published in the British Medical Journal , confirming the obvious, found that driving while drowsy was “a serious predictor of road traffic accidents”—which, of course, lead to higher insurance rates.
Studies suggest that older people are more vulnerable to these costs and losses. Sleep disruptions are very common throughout the population, but may be a particular problem for older folks, experts say. For one, older people don’t fall into as deep sleep as younger people do, and thus are more prone to waking up during sleep, says Dr. Carl Bazil, the director of the epilepsy and sleep division of the Department of Neurology at Columbia Doctors Eastside in New York City. This is a normal consequence of aging, Bazil explains, but it increases the likelihood “that you will wake up at some point and not go right back to sleep.” Furthermore, Bazil says, people tend to get more responsibility at work or in life as they age, which may leave their minds racing—interfering with their sleep further.
So what steps can you take to fight drowsiness, and its financial penalties?
Get regular exercise. “Ideally you want to do at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity more days than not,” says Chicago-based psychologist and physical therapist Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo. “This can include going for a walk, playing a sport, taking a class or even dancing round the house.”
Don’t drink alcohol before bed. Alcohol can disrupt sleep, studies show. “So if you are going to have your glass of wine have it three hours prior to bed,” says Amy Korn-Reavis, the program director of the neurodiagnostic technology program for Concorde Career Institute in Orlando, Fla. “Although it may help you fall asleep it actually causes disruption the second half of the night.”
Use relaxation techniques. Lombardo suggests that you practice relaxation techniques before bed. There are a variety of ways to do this, but taking deep breaths and focusing on relaxing specific areas of your body (spend a few minutes on each area) one by one is simple and often effective, she says.
Resist the lure of your phone and laptop. Beginning about an hour before bedtime, try to avoid smartphones, laptops, TVs or any other device which has backlighting, says Joshi. “These sources of light exposure can inhibit the natural process of sleep by suppressing melatonin production,” she explains. Moreover, “a person is usually partaking in some form of communication with these devices which can distract from sleep.”
Consult a doctor. If none of these techniques are working, it may be time to see a doctor. “If you start to notice your sleep is not as refreshing, feel more tired during the day with no change in sleep quantity, or perhaps you start snoring, these may be signs of a sleep disorder and thus should be brought to medical attention,” says Joshi.