April 11, 2022 3 min read
All body processes go through changes with age, and sleep is no different.
As we grow older, we tend to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. Older adults also experience changes in their sleep architecture. Insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea are also more common among seniors. Besides that, older adults are more likely to suffer health problems and take medication that can affect sleep.
Considering all this, it’s no surprise that getting adequate sleep becomes more challenging in our golden years. But growing old does not have to mean being constantly sleep-deprived. Here’s why that’s the case and what to do about it.
While infants can sleep for up to 20 hours in a day, all adults, no matter their age, require 7 to 8 hours of sleep. So our sleep needs don’t really change much during our lifetime.
However, as people grow old, what does change is our sleep patterns. Older adults often have fragmented overnight sleep that lasts 6 to 7.5 hours followed by a mid-afternoon nap for about 1 hour. The sleep schedule of seniors also shifts: they generally go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than younger adults.
Older adults are also more prone to insomnia, loud snoring, restless leg syndrome, and other sleep disorders. They experience more health problems that interfere with sleep. And while some of these changes are a normal part of aging, others are not and should be addressed.
As explained, sleep pattern changes are a normal part of aging. Your sleep may be lighter, you may wake up earlier than usual, and require daily naps to feel rested. However, insomnia, snoring, and their consequences are problems that may be more common with age but that need treatment. Here is what you can do.
Sleep hygiene refers to habits that improve sleep. These can include relaxing before bedtime, avoiding caffeine in the evening, exercising daily, and creating a cool and peaceful sleep environment.
As we age, we tend to become less active. But suboptimal levels of physical and social activity can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm and mood, leading to sleep problems. Try to spend as much time as your health allows it in physically and mentally stimulating activities.
Napping for up to an hour every afternoon is ok. But avoid long naps and naps close to bedtime. Long naps can interfere with nighttime sleep and they can never make up for lost sleep during the night. That’s because studies show that the naps of older adults are dominated by lighter NREM stages.
Melatonin is a sleep-promoting hormone produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness. Dim the lights and avoid blue-light-emitting screens to help your body get into a sleepy state. An alternative is to use natural melatonin supplements if you’re having trouble falling asleep.
Snoring can disrupt your and your bed partner’s sleep. It is one of the first symptoms of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder marked by pauses in breathing during sleep. Ways to stop snoring include losing weight if overweight, regular exercising, using CPAP machines, or oral appliances like theGood Morning Snore Solution tongue-stabilizing devices.
Gulia KK, Kumar VM. Sleep disorders in the elderly: a growing challenge.Psychogeriatrics. 2018;18(3):155-165.doi:10.1111/psyg.12319
Mantua J, Spencer RMC. Exploring the nap paradox: are mid-day sleep bouts a friend or foe?.Sleep Med. 2017;37:88-97.doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2017.01.019
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