Categories: Sleep Science

Sleep and Aging

Just as our hair will likely turn grey and wrinkles will probably adorn our faces, as we age many of us can expect to encounter sleep changes.

These sleep and aging changes can result in waking up throughout the night, becoming sleepy earlier, and awakening earlier than we used to.

Sleep and Aging Statistics

As many as 50 percent of seniors experience some sort of sleep disturbance as they embark on their golden years.  And according to the National Institute of Aging, a good number of seniors are not getting enough sleep. One of the reasons that many seniors are sleep deprived is in their trouble in falling asleep. More than a third of women and 13 percent of men reported taking more than an half an hour (30 minutes) to fall asleep (sleep latency), according to a study the institute cited.

Why These Sleep and Aging Changes

Fortunately, there are some plausible explanations to the sleep pattern changes many elderly adults experience. As adults age, their body produces — and secretes — less of the “sleep hormone” melatonin.  In addition, older adults may have medical conditions that cause them pain or restrict their painless movement during sleep, which affects the quality of their nighttime sleep. Certain medications may be stimulating, which can disrupt and interrupt sleep.

Further, some older individuals quite often don’t sleep as deeply (i.e. Stages 3 and 4, and REM sleep) as they did in their younger years, causing them to wake up more frequently during the night; this is referred to as fragmented sleep.  This results in many seniors feeling the need to take a daily afternoon nap. Lastly, most seniors are “retired”. This may mean that their days aren’t filled with as many physical  or mental activities as when they were younger which had “tired them out” more.  Other life situations, such as the death of a spouse or moving out of their lifelong home can be a source of sleep problems.

Tips for Better Sleep As You Age

Fortunately, there are things that you can do as a senior to get more quality shut eye as you age:

1) Participate in aerobic exercise during the morning or afternoon, if approved by your physician. A recent study by the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University found that aerobic exercise improved the duration and quality of sleep in middle-aged and older adults.

2) Avoid napping if possible.

3) Consider a light bedtime snack that is believed to help promote sleep.

4) Avoid caffeine and alcohol at least three to four hours before bedtime.

5) Keep a regular bedtime and wake up time each day. Consider using a sleep diary to keep track.

6) Invest in a quality, comfortable mattress.

Remember, waking up tired every day is not normal, and can affect the quality of your golden years. If you are consistently having trouble sleeping, and the above tips haven’t helped, it’s important to discuss your sleeping problems with your doctor or a sleep specialist.

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