As we get older, we tend to undergo natural changes in our sleeping patterns. This transition may include things like feeling tired earlier, waking up at an earlier hour, and the ability to get less quality sleep. Despite feeling tired earlier in the evening, many older adults report having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

This can result in waking up unrefreshed, anxious, and irritable. Severe disturbances in sleep are not a normal part of aging and should be addressed appropriately. Sleep does not become any less important with age, and seniors need to get enough quality sleep for mental, physical, and emotional health.

How much sleep is healthy for seniors?

The amount of sleep required for maintained health is about the same for older adults as it is for younger ones. Recommended sleep requirements for healthy adults is between 7.5 and 9 hours a night.

Of course, how much sleep is needed can vary from person to person, it is of greater significance that you wake up feeling rested and refreshed. If you feel a lack of energy and motivation during the day, and experience chronic fatigue, it is likely you are not getting enough sleep.

How do sleep patterns change with age?

With age, the body begins to produce decreased levels of growth hormone, which in turn tends to reduce deep sleep. This leads to lower melatonin production, which often makes sleep more fragmented, meaning you wake up more frequently during the night.

Unfortunately, breaking up the deep sleep cycle generally leaves the individual feeling less refreshed in the morning. This is why many older adults feel they have become lighter sleepers with age.

Underlying Causes of Sleep Problems

Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder that is characterized by trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, and not being able to get back to sleep. The is one of the most common sleep issues that many older adults struggle with.

Possible causes of insomnia, may include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of despair of hopelessness
  • Depression
  • A traumatic event
  • Medications
  • Existing health conditions

Common Factors that Contribute to Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders

Aside from the underlying factors that often set off sleep disorders in the first place, there are also a range of other elements that can lead to poor and inconsistent sleep patterns.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Lack of regular exercise can lead to all kinds of health issues, including difficulty sleeping. Exercise helps to wear you out and make you feel tired. Without consistent exercise, you may struggle to get quality sleep.

Sleep Environment

This encompasses your sleeping schedule as well as the area you sleep in. You should have a dark quiet place you feel comfortable in, with no annoying distractions. A relaxing routine should be established to create a regular sleep schedule to bring some consistency to your sleep.

Consuming caffeine or alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime is discouraged, and so is trying to fall asleep with the TV on.

Medical Conditions

There are many health problems that can contribute to poor sleep. Chronic joint stiffness and muscle pain can make it difficult to get comfortable for long stretches of time.

Some health issues that can interfere with sleep are arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, chronic heartburn or indigestion, IBS, and Alzheimer’s.

Medications

A lot of seniors are taking multiple medications for various ailments. The mixture of these medications, as well as their combined side effects, can have an impact on sleep.

Lack of Social Activity

Much like physical exercise, social interaction is a good way to burn off excess energy and prepare the body for sleep. Meeting up with family and friends, volunteering, or participating in community events are excellent ways to get social and improve sleep.

Improving Sleep Patterns

There are many tips and lifestyle suggestions that can help improve the quality and longevity of sleep.

Some helpful sleep suggestions, include:

  • Establish a consistent sleep routine
  • Block out noise with a fan or earplugs if necessary
  • Get to bed earlier
  • Make the bedroom a sleep only zone – associating the bedroom with work can impact sleep
  • Boost your melatonin levels
  • Maintain a nutritious diet
  • Stay social
  • Exercise
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