The Truth about Aging & Sleep Problems
As we age, many find it increasingly more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. But what is the connection with getting older and getting rest?
Many people suffer from restless nights, but their need for does not decrease with age. Difficulty falling asleep, disrupted sleep, spending more time awake, waking early in the morning, yet feeling tired during the day – these are all common complaints from older patients.
Sleep Quality Decreases with Age.
As we get older, sleep patterns often change. How the patterns change, however, is unique to each person. Disturbances may include:
- A decrease in the total amount of sleep at night,
- Waking often or suddenly,
- Sleeping lightly,
- Passing long wakeful periods at night,
- Lack of deep, restful sleep,
- Anxiety about falling asleep.
Any one of these symptoms can be a source of chronic frustration and sleep deprivation.
Lack of Sleep Is Bad for Your Health.
Patients who struggle with these problems usually do not feel well-rested in the morning or may find that they need naps during the day. Older adults who are not getting adequate amounts of sleep are more likely to be overweight, develop diabetes, have difficulty focusing or remembering, and suffer from depression. Sleep deprivation can be particularly dangerous for the elderly by causing coordination problems and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Read about other long-term effects of sleep deprivation.
There Are Many Contributing Factors for Age-Related Sleep Problems.
Sleep patterns can change with age for a wide range of reasons. Below, we review a few of the most common issues that inhibit older people from enjoying restful nights.
Pain & Discomfort
Unfortunately, a lot of ailments are associated or get worse with age. Anyone who suffers from arthritis pain, who has cancer or other chronic and debilitating conditions may likely also have discomfort at night.
Other medical issues may disrupt sleep patterns in a variety of ways. Alzheimer’s disease can cause nighttime agitation and irregular sleep cycles, for example. Symptoms related to diabetes, acid reflux disease (GERD) or conditions that cause frequent urination can interrupt sleep.
Many women going through menopause experience night sweats, hot flashes and increased anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Thought these side effects may improve in time, they often persist in post-menopausal women.
The average American over the age of 65 takes five prescription drugs daily. It is not uncommon for medications, or drug interactions, to cause insomnia. Sometimes a change in the type of medication or the dosage can alleviate sleep problems.
Many seniors are not able to get regular exercise. Being sedentary makes it more difficult to feel tired or sleep deeply.
Anxiety & Stress
It is normal for higher levels of anxiety and stress to be associated with decreased amounts or quality of sleep. Older patients may be more affected by these emotional factors due to big life changes. Retirement, the loss of a spouse or loved one, health concerns, losing one’s independence or moving can all be significant sources of stress.
The occurrence of most sleep disorders – such as insomnia, sleep apnea and Restless Legs Syndrome – increases with age. Signs that you may be affected by a sleep disorder include: difficulty falling asleep even when you are tired, feeling groggy or irritable during the day, microsleep or the inability to stay awake when sitting still, and a dependence on sleeping pills.
Better Sleep Hygiene Can Improve Sleep Quality.
There are some healthy habits that people of any age can put into place in order to sleep better at night. Here are the main sleep hygiene recommendations.
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, during the day.
- Avoid taking naps during the day, or limit yourself to just 20-30 minutes of rest in the afternoon.
- Aim for about two hours of time in the sunlight each day in order to help balance melatonin levels.
- Limit the consumption of alcohol and caffeine, such as coffee and tea, before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking fluids after dinner to reduce the need to urinate during the night.
- Have a bedtime routine and go to bed at the same time every night.
- Rather than watching TV or using electronic devices, read a book or listen to soft music before trying to fall asleep.
- Make sure your bedroom dark and cool.
As we age, it may seem normal to decrease the amount of physical and social activity that would otherwise fill our days. Yet, it is important to maintain a regular level of activity. Continuing to interact with family, friends and colleagues has a positive impact on sleep quality and overall health.
Get more information about the Link Between Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Are You Struggling with a Sleep Disorder?
If you are struggling with a lack of sleep or think you may have a sleep disorder, ask your doctor about a referral for sleep assessment. Sleep testing performed in-home or at a specialized sleep center, like Sleep Health Solutions, may be the right tool to help you. Together we can help form a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
Get the rest you need; Call us today at (330) 923-0228 to schedule a consultation.