Sleep disorders are fairly common as we grow older. As we age, individuals tend to experience less deep sleep and wake up frequently in the night, which can lead to daytime fatigue. Having trouble falling asleep and also waking up early in the morning are other symptoms many adults suffer.
Is It True The Older You Get, The Fewer Hours Of Sleep You Need?
Not true. In fact, no matter what your age, sleeping well is essential to your physical health and emotional well-being. Sleep is just as important to our physical and emotional health over the age of 50 as it was when we were younger.
While sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of sleep we need generally does not. Older people may wake more frequently through the night and may actually get less night time sleep, but their sleep need is no less than younger adults. Because they may sleep less during the night, older people tend to sleep more during the day. Naps planned as part of a regular daily routine can be useful in promoting wakefulness after the person awakens.
Why Our Sleeping Pattern Changes As We Age.
Sleep is a hormone dependent process, and as we age, our body produces lower levels of growth hormone. One of the hormone that is important for us to promote a good sleep is melatonin. Decrease in melatonin can lead you to often experience more fragmented sleep (more rapid sleep cycles) and wake up more often during the night. Menopausal women who suffer from hormone imbalance also often unable to sleep very well.
Apart from hormones, many cases of insomnia are also caused by underlying issue such as emotional issues — stress, anxiety, depression. Some illnesses and medication can also cause sleeping disturbance, or even just a poor sleeping environment.
Common Causes Of Insomnia And Sleeping Problems In Older Adults:
- Poor sleeping habits and sleeping environment — These include irregular sleeping hours, consumption of alcohol before bedtime, and falling asleep with the TV on.
- Pain or medical conditions — Pain can keep you from sleeping well. In addition, many health conditions such as a frequent need to urinate, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis, night time heartburn, menopause, and Alzheimer's can interfere with sleep.
- Medication — Older adults tend to take more medications than younger people and the combinations of drugs, as well as their side-effects, can impair sleep.
- Lack of exercise — If you are too sedentary, you may never feel sleepy or feel sleepy all of the time. Regular aerobic exercise during the day, at least three hours before bedtime, can promote good sleep.
- Psychological stress or psychological disorders — Significant life changes like the death of a loved one or moving from a family home can cause stress. Anxiety or sadness can also keep you awake, which can, in turn, cause more anxiety or depression.
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and sleep-disordered breathing — Disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea occur more frequently in older adults.
- Learned response — People with a legitimate cause for having trouble sleeping after suffering a loss, for example may lie in bed and try to force themselves to sleep. Eventually their bodies learn not to sleep. Even after your original reason for sleep disruption has passed, the learned response can remain.
How Many Hours Of Sleep Do Adults Need?
Although dependent on other factors, sleep experts recommend a range of 7-9 hours of sleep for the average adult. While sleep requirements vary from person to person, most healthy adults tend to require the recommended hours of sleep per night to function at their best.
But… Quality Is More Important Than Quantity.
However, how you feel following a night’s sleep is more important than the specific number of hours you spend asleep. Frequently waking up not feeling rested or feeling tired during the day are the best indications that you’re not getting enough sleep at night and may have a sleeping problem that needs to be addressed.
To Nap Or Not To Nap?
People are biologically programmed to sleep not only for a long period in the middle of the night but also for a short period in the middle of the day.
So, if you don’t feel fully alert during the day, a nap may be just what you need. For many people, taking a brief nap can provide the needed energy to perform fully for the rest of the day. Experiment with napping to see if it helps you.
Some tips for good napping:
- Short — Naps as short as 5 minutes can improve alertness and certain memory processes. Most people benefit from limiting naps to 15-45 minutes. You may feel groggy and unable to concentrate after a longer nap.
- Early — Nap early in the afternoon. Napping too late in the day may disrupt your nighttime sleep.
- Comfortable — Try to nap in a comfortable environment preferably with limited light and noise.
Daytime Practices To Improve Your Nighttime Sleep.
What you have done during the day time can have a huge impact on your sleep pattern. So exercise these few practices during the daytime, as they can help you sleep better.
- Exercise — After exercising, the body releases endorphins that can boost your mood and reduce stress, depression and anxiety. When your mood is improved, and it will also help you to sleep better.
- Expose yourself to sunlight — Bright sunlight helps regulate melatonin and your sleep-wake cycles. Try to get at least 2 hours of sunlight a day. Keep curtains and shades open during the day, move your favourite chair to a sunny spot, or consider using a light therapy box to simulate daylight.
- Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine — All are stimulants and interfere with the quality of your sleep.
- No TV, digital screens such as laptops and mobile devices on your bed — Artificial light such as blue lights from the digital devices can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. The overuse of TV and digital screens can make your brain alert and it hard to go to sleep.