As part of the aging process, sleeping habits change as we age and vary from person to person. The sleeping cycle consists of multiple stages throughout the night that are repeated several times, including dreamless periods of light sleep, as well as some periods of active dreaming known as the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle. While many people believe that a poor night’s sleep is normal amongst the elderly, it is not! Sleeping needs change throughout the course of one’s lifetime, and there are several different explanations as to why the elderly experience disruptive sleeping patterns.
A normal night of sleep should be somewhere between 7-9 hours without disruption. Unfortunately, this can become difficult to obtain as one ages. Elderly people tend to wake up 3-4 times per night, and are more likely to be aware that they’re awake. As people become older, their bodies begin to produce and secrete less melatonin, a hormone that is attributed to having an uninterrupted night of sleep. Additionally, it is common for older individuals to become more sensitive of their environment, resulting in lighter and more disrupted sleeping patterns. Common effects of loss of sleep result in tiredness throughout the day, an increase in daytime naps, and an earlier bedtime.
Some of the most common issues contributed to loss of sleep amongst elderly individuals include (but are not limited to) the following sleeping disorders: Insomnia, sleep apnea, Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPD), excessive snoring, restless body movements or other circadian rhythm disorders. As a result of consistent loss of sleep, individuals have a higher tendency to experience depression, fatigue and irritation.
So, while sleep habits change as we age, there are things we can do to help combat disruptive sleeping patterns, here are a few tips:
Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant that is meant to keep people awake, and can be found in coffee, tea, and soda pop. Allow 3-5 hours prior to bedtime when drinking caffeinated beverages. This way, the heart has time to calm down before it’s time to sleep.
Eliminate naps. If a person is feeling fatigued, sometimes a long nap is the answer. Long naps can lead to grogginess or the inability to fall asleep at night. Instead, try taking a nap for a shorter period of time or eliminate them all together.
Increase daily exercise. Try talking a walk in the afternoon to help burn some energy! An increase in moderate exercise can cause fatigue, therefore contributing to a good night’s rest.
Consistent sleep schedules. Going to bed at the same time each night will create consistency, and the body will be able to recognize when it’s time for some shut-eye.
Reading. Try catching up with your favorite book, magazine, or newspaper before bed. Sometimes, reading can cause tiredness.
Sleeping aids. If one of these preventative methods isn’t working out, it might be time to speak to a health-care provider. If you are considering a sleep aid and/or are taking other medication, make sure you consult a health-care provider before going forward.
If you or someone you know is having trouble sleeping at night, contact your health-care provider to explore options that will assist you in getting your best night’s rest.
References: Sleep Foundation