How Aging Impacts Sleep Patterns

It’s common for the sleep patterns that we consider normal to change as we age. When compared to younger people, seniors tend to sleep less, wake up and go back to sleep more frequently and spend less time in deep sleep. Even though many of these traits are viewed as a typical part of the aging process, there are other elements that may be signs of potential issues. Here is what to know about seniors and sleep.


Sleep Disorders

One of the biggest things that prevent people of all ages from getting a good night's sleep is sleep disorders. There are three that are the most common among seniors. The first of these is insomnia, which is typically the sleep disorder that affects most people regardless of age. This is especially true of adults 60 and over, as it affects almost half of people in that group. Signs of insomnia can include taking 30-45 minutes or more to fall asleep, waking up multiple times a night, and being unable to fall back asleep after getting up early. Insomnia can be the result of many factors, including neurological disorders, pain conditions like heartburn and arthritis, or increased need to go to the bathroom.

Other disorders include sleep apnea and snoring, both of which make it harder to breathe while sleeping. Snoring is more common in older people and those that are overweight. It is caused by a partial blockage of the airway passage from the nose and mouth to the lungs. When someone snores, it can cause daytime sleepiness and be an annoyance to a bed partner. From a sleep apnea standpoint, there are two distinct kinds: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive happens when air that enters the mouth or nose is blocked either partially or completely. Central, while less common, is the result of the brain not sending the right signals to start the breathing process.


What Factors Can Affect Sleep?

There are numerous factors outside of disorders that can lead to trouble with sleep. For example, not maintaining good sleep habits like keeping a steady sleep schedule can affect your body’s internal clock. This is also true for drinking before bedtime or napping too much. In addition, some medications can make it harder to fall asleep or keep you awake. For these, you may need to see your doctor.

Aging, in general, can cause sleep issues as well. Stress from life changes has the ability to hamper your sleep. This can include the loss of a loved one, moving from a family home, or a condition that changes one’s life. In these instances, talking with a doctor or counselor can help.


Things That Can Help

While there are a lot of causes of sleep trouble, the good news is that there are things you can do proactively to help you sleep better. One of the biggest things you can do is to set a daily routine in the evening and at bedtime. This can help your internal clock be maintained. In addition, ensure that your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. If you are unable to fall asleep at bedtime, get out of bed and do some form of activity that will help you feel sleepy.

Outside of bedtime, there are other steps you can take. Getting exercise and being active every day will help improve your sleep as well. You can also make sure not to avoid things like caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol before bed. A doctor may also be able to prescribe medication to help with sleeplessness as well.

While not getting enough sleep can be contributed to aging, there are several other elements that may be causing it. By knowing what factors can lead to insomnia or other disorders, as well as how to prevent them, seniors will be able to encourage better sleep habits.