There’s a common misconception that your need for sleep declines as you get older. While changes in your sleep patterns are a normal aspect of the aging process, your actual sleep needs will remain constant throughout your adult life. Unfortunately, many seniors find it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep as they age. Fortunately, you can take a few steps to ensure you get the vital sleep you need no matter what age you are.
Sleep Changes as You Age
Many older adults find that they become less satisfied with their sleep as they age, which also makes them more tired during the day. Your sleep patterns, also called sleep architecture, change as you get older, contributing to difficulties sleeping. There are multiple stages of sleep — periods of light and deep sleep and REM, which is occasional periods of active dreaming. This cycle is repeated several times throughout the night.
As you get older, even if the amount of time you sleep remains the same, you’ll have more stages of lighter sleep and less deep sleep. Studies on senior sleep habits also show:
- An overall decline in REM sleep
- Increased sleep latency, or the time it takes to fall asleep
- More sleep fragmentation, or waking up during the night
Other Factors Affecting Sleep as You Age
The prevalence of sleep disorder tends to increase with age. For some, this issue has to do with biological changes that naturally occur as we get older. However, others experience sleep disturbance due to physical or psychiatric illnesses as well as the medications used to treat these conditions.
Some of the most common factors affecting the sleep of older adults include:
- Advanced sleep phase syndrome: Many older adults go to bed early in the evening and wake up early in the morning — the natural sleep rhythm has shifted forward. This change to your circadian rhythm, which coordinates the timing of your bodily functions, is called advanced sleep phase syndrome.
- Insomnia: As you age, you may find yourself experiencing symptoms of insomnia a few nights per week or more. Whether it’s chronic or acute, insomnia among seniors is often related to an underlying cause, such as a psychiatric or medical condition.
- Snoring: One of the leading causes of sleep disruption among millions of Americans is snoring. Snoring is more prevalent among those who are overweight, and it often worsens with age.
- Sleep apnea: Snoring is sometimes a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where individuals stop breathing for as long as 10 to 60 seconds. When this situation occurs, your brain is alerted, which causes you to startle awake once your breathing resumes. Sleep apnea should never go untreated, as it can increase your risk of other severe medical conditions.
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS): This neurological movement disorder is marked by an irresistible urge to move your limbs — particularly an unpleasant tingling or creeping sensation in your legs. This issue may grow worse in the evenings, making it more difficult to sleep through the night.
Tips for Sleeping Better as Older Adults
If these or other factors are causing you to get less sleep, a few strategies can help you get more shut-eye:
- Avoid taking an afternoon nap.
- Take time to calm yourself before bedtime. Turn off electronics, take a warm bath or read a book.
- Cut back your caffeine and alcohol intake, especially close to bedtime.
- Drink fewer fluids in the evening to avoid those late-night trips to the bathroom.
- Get some exercise and sun during the day so that your body can better differentiate awake time from sleep time.
Help Is Here If You Need It
Sleep patterns are not the only changes that occur as we get older. Some seniors need assistance with a number of daily activities ranging from housework to bathing. A professional caregiver, like those we refer at Active Senior Care, could provide the support and assistance you need to feel more secure.
If you’d like to be connected with someone who has the experience and training needed to provide quality services, contact us online today or call 786-360-3449 to speak with a friendly member of our team.