We change as we age. Along with the usual physical changes, there are changes to our sleep patterns as well. While some of these changes are completely normal, others represent real problems for older Americans.
Typical Sleep Disorders and Sleep Problems in the Elderly
As we age, we tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than we did when we were younger. The older we get, the more time we spend in the lighter stages of sleep, which means that it is harder get the deep sleep needed for a truly restful night. Add to this the usual stresses and anxieties of adult life, and it's no wonder that the elderly tend to struggle with the inability to sleep.
In fact, some estimates put the number of older and elderly adults with sleep problems at 40%. This includes adults who sleep lightly, wake frequently, or experience daytime fatigue.
While sleep might be harder to come by, good sleep habits should be enough to ensure that we are getting the rest we need to avoid these problems. Age by itself does not prevent a good night’s sleep unless there is an underlying sleep disorder. A sleep disorder is a disruption of normal sleep patterns by some underlying disease or pathology.
Sleep disorders in the elderly often include:
- Sleep apnea (temporary halting of breathing during sleep
- Periodic limb movement (often involuntary)
- Restless leg syndrome
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorder
Sleep disorders are typically diagnosed after sleep has been disrupted for more than two weeks. If you suspect that you or a loved one has a sleep disorder, it’s best to seek medical help. Many of these sleep disorders have underlying causes that need to be treated by a medical professional.
Other Common Causes of Sleep Problems in Older Adults
Whether or not a true sleep disorder is present, there are many things that can contribute to a poor night's sleep. While our younger selves might have been able to brush some of these off, we need to pay better attention to them as we get older.
- Medications. Medications, particularly pain medications, can cause sleep problems as a side-effect. Talk to your physician or pharmacist to see if this is the case. Even if sleep problems are not a direct side-effect, it could be an indirect effect of other side-effects. For example, heartburn, increased need to urinate, and poor circulation can all cause a person to get up during the night.
- Pain. Other aches and pains can keep us up at night too. Mild pain medications can help with this, if not contra-indicated by other meds you might be taking.
- Menopause. Many women complain that during menopause, cramps, hot flashes, and night sweats interrupt their sleep.
- Stress. Stress and anxiety are big reasons why adults lose sleep, literally. Both everyday stresses and major life events can cause minor sleep problems, more make existing sleep problems worse.
- Isolation. It’s easy to lose touch with friends and family as we get older, but a lack of social engagement goes hand-in-hand with depression, anxiety, and problems sleeping. Volunteering or joining a group can help combat these factors.
- Poor health habits. Lack of proper nutrition and lack of exercise can both disrupt our sleep cycles, especially if allowed to continue for long periods of time. The sooner you or your loved one can improve your diet and exercise, the sooner you’ll see improvements in sleep.
- Other poor sleep habits. Consuming alcohol or caffeine before bedtime, having a screen on in the bedroom, or switching up sleep schedules can all contribute to the inability to fall asleep easily and stay asleep. The best thing is to get a comfortable bed and get into a good sleep routine using it.
For more tips on establishing the right sleep routine, check out, “Quick Tips on How to Sleep Better."
Why is Sleep So Important for Older Adults?
It’s a common myth that we need less and less sleep as we age. While it is true that adults need less sleep than children or even teenagers, sleep needs tend to level off in our twenties, with most adults needing somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
A good night’s sleep is especially important to older adults because it allows the body to repair itself, a process that takes longer and longer as we age. This added repair time reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Sleep also affects us mentally. Older adults who do not get enough sleep can encounter problems with memory, judgment, and concentration. Emotionally, older adults who do not sleep enough have higher rates of depression; in fact, sleep problems (including insomnia) are a better predictor of depression than age or gender.
Quality Sleep to Improve Your Quality of Life
Again, sleep problems in the elderly are common...but that doesn’t mean that you have to live with them. Good sleep is good for us, body, mind, and spirit, and that goes double for older adults, and it may be as easy as getting a new mattress! We invite you to visit any one of our Banner Mattress locations or shop online to see the newest innovations in mattresses and achieve your best sleep comfort to achieve more restorative, restful sleep.