What Happens With Our Sleep as We Age
As you get older, you may experience bodily changes that can impact how you sleep. These changes may frequently become more noticeable later in life, and their impact could be influenced by side effects of medication or chronic illness. Because of this, sleep disorders and problems are fairly common in seniors.
Common Sleep Problems Older Individuals Can Experience
Some common sleep problems seniors often experience are:
Insomnia is defined as the inability to obtain restorative sleep each night, or habitual sleeplessness.
The National Institutes of Health reported that in one study more than 50 percent of older adults said they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Common symptoms linked with insomnia that the elderly experience are:
- Taking a minimum of 30 minutes to fall asleep
- Waking up at an early hour, and not being able to fall back to sleep
- Waking up on multiple occasions in the middle of the night
- Feeling unproductive and exhausted the following day
Initial insomnia symptoms are referred to as "short-term insomnia." Physicians will typically diagnose individuals with "chronic insomnia" if they have persistent symptoms for over a month; often, secondary insomnia will persist even after the initial root cause is treated. While the insomnia symptoms will vary between individuals, there are two identified general types:
- Sleep onset insomnia: This indicates you have problems falling asleep.
- Sleep maintenance insomnia: This occurs when you're unable to stay asleep for regular durations, and you wake up routinely in the middle of the night.
2. Sleep-Disordered Breathing
Snoring and sleep apnea are two examples of a sleep-disordered condition. These conditions make it harder to breathe while sleeping. When severe, they might cause you to wake up during the night often, and be drowsy during the day.
Snoring is an extremely common condition that affects almost 40 percent of adults. It's more common in older individuals and those who are overweight. Snoring, when severe, doesn't just cause frequent nighttime awakenings and daytime sleepiness, but it could also disrupt your partner's sleep.
A partial airway passage blockage from your nose to mouth to lungs causes snoring. This blockage causes your passage tissues to vibrate, which leads to the noise you hear when a person snores.
Sleep apnea comes in two types:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: A condition that occurs when you have air that enters from your mouth or nose that's completely or partially blocked, typically due to extra tissue in the back of your mouth and throat, or because of obesity. These episodes could cause you to awaken often throughout the night if they're frequent or severe. They can make you sleepy during the day.
- Central sleep apnea: This condition isn't as common. It occurs when your brain isn't sending the right signals to begin the breathing process.
In many cases, both sleep apnea types can occur in the same individual.
Obstructive sleep apnea could increase your risk for:
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive problems
- Heart disease
But, there needs to be more research to understand obstructive sleep apena's long-term consequences in older adults.
3. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
RLS is a type of neurological movement disorder marked by an intense urge to move your limbs. With RLS, you can experience tingling, pulling, unpleasant or creeping sensations typically in your legs that become worse during the evening, making it harder to sleep during the night.
Your risk for this disorder increases with age. Around 10 percent of individuals in Europe and North America report experiencing RLS symptoms. Around 80 percent of individuals with RLS also suffer with periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), according to a study. In the study, it was found that around 45 percent of older individuals have at least a mild type of PLMD.
4. Poor Sleep Environment and Sleep Habits
These include consumption of alcohol before bedtime, irregular sleep hours, and falling asleep with the television on. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable, and your bedtime ritual conducive to sleep.
Significant life changes like the death of a loved one, moving from a family home, and retirement can cause stress. Stress can impact how you sleep.
Tips for Sleeping Better as You Age
Here are some tips you can follow to help you sleep better.
1. Improve Sleep Habits
Often, you could improve your sleep simply by:
- Improving your sleep environment
- Addressing emotional problems
- Choosing healthier daytime habits.
Because each person is different, it could take some experimentation to see what will work best for improving your sleep.
2. Take a Warm Bath
Your body temperature drops when you get out of a warm bath, which could help you become drowsy. It could also help you slow down and relax, making you more ready for bedtime.
3. Avoid Afternoon Naps
If you take naps during the day, it could leave you lying awake at night. If you do decide to nap, try to keep them short, or about 20-30 minutes long.
4. Sleep on a Supportive Mattress
Sleep on a supportive mattress like a natural latex mattress, or even a natural latex mattress topper. Natural latex foam mattresses offer older adults the benefits of memory foam, but without the drawbacks of them. Latex provides the contouring and "hug" of memory foam without sleeping hot. It provides outstanding pressure point relief if you're experiencing achy joints and muscles. It practically eliminates motion transfer, and provides temperature regulation and natural bounciness.
A natural latex foam mattress is a great alternative to traditional mattresses, and the best mattress for seniors. They provide more spring to them than does memory foam, and instantly recover their shape when you change body positions.
Another alternative, and a more cost-effective way of enjoying the luxury of natural latex, is a natural latex topper.
5. Treat your Sleep Disorder
Based on your sleep assessment, your sleep specialist or doctor might recommend specific treatment options. It's important you remember there are effective sleep disorder treatments that could help ease your symptoms, and help you sleep better.
To determine if you're having issues with sleep, take a look at the quality of your time awake. When younger, if you were getting less sleep, but you still felt energetic and rested during the day, it could just be you're now requiring less sleep. Each individual's sleep requirements are different.
But, if you're noticing your lack of sleep has an impact on your daytime activities, you should look further into the cause of your sleeplessness, and see a doctor to learn the steps of getting better sleep.
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