How much sleep do we need as we get older?
As we get older, our sleep patterns may change. We may become sleepy earlier, or wake up too early in the morning, or wake up not rested even after 7-8 hours sleep. Older people need the same amount of sleep, as adults from the age of 20, unfortunately many older people often get less sleep than they need. Statistics shows that 36 per cent of adults over the age of 65 take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
Also, older people sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night, which may be why they need at least one nap during the day.
There are many explanations of why this happening to the older people. As we get old, our bodies produce less of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. Also, we become more sensitive to changes of the environment, such as noise.
The importance of sleep for older adults:
No matter what your age, good sleep is essential for your health. For older adults, a good night’s sleep is especially important because it helps improve concentration and memory formation, allows your body to repair any cell damage that occurred during the day, and refreshes your immune system, which in turn helps to prevent disease.
Many physicians consider sleep to be a barometer of a person’s health, like taking temperature. Older adults who don’t sleep well are more likely to suffer from depression, attention and memory problems, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Insufficient sleep can also lead to many serious health problems in older adults, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems.
Health issues affecting sleep:
There are also specific health issues related to ageing that can have a significant impact on sleep, these include:
- arthritis and osteoporosis,
- anxiety and depression,
- Alzheimer's disease and dementia,
- men with prostate problems may need to get up during the night to urinate,
- sleep apnoea is also common among older adults, and can cause significant sleep disturbances,
- some medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure tablets, and diuretics, can also hinder the ability to fall asleep..
If any of these factors are affecting your sleep then it's important to talk to your doctor about them, as treating an underlying condition that is causing poor sleep often leads to better sleep.
And if you don't have an underlying issue, but still have constant difficulty dropping off to sleep, or going back to sleep after waking during the night – then you may have insomnia. Insomnia is not necessarily linked to ageing, so it's best to speak with your doctor about your options for treating insomnia.
Common causes of insomnia and sleep problems in older adults:
The most common causes of insomnia and sleep disorders in older people are:
- Poor sleep habits and sleep environment. These include irregular sleep hours, consumption of alcohol before bedtime, and falling asleep with the TV on.
- Medications. 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.
- Sleep disorders. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and sleep-disordered breathing—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.
Many people believe that poor sleeping is a normal part of life but it is definitely not! Sleep patterns change as we age, but disturbed sleep and waking up tired are not part of normal aging.
Tips to improve your sleep:
As you age, your body becomes more sensitive to emotional stress and physical changes around you. These internal and external factors can disrupt your sleep. It is important to be aware of your sleep habits and how they affect your sleep. You can then make sure that what you do and where you are will give you the best chance to get a good night of sleep.
For example, some older people find that their minds race with worry when they lie down to sleep. Just trying to sleep through the worry will often make matters worse. Knowing this, they can set aside a time during the day to focus upon the things that are bothering them. They can make plans, get advice, come up with new solutions, or simply try to understand things better. This will free them up to feel more relaxed at bedtime. The bed should be a place for rest, not worry.
Your internal body clock makes you feel sleepy or alert at regular times every day. Everyone's body has this natural timing system. As you age, your body clock may take longer to adjust to changes. If you still work, it may be hard for you to adapt to a change in shifts. When you fly a long distance, you may also have a hard time getting used to a new time zone.
Your body can also be affected by temperature, light or noise.
You need to make sure that your bed and bedroom are as comfortable as you can make them. You will also want to keep a regular schedule. Try to sleep at times when you will not be disturbed.
An exercise routine can also help you keep a good sleep pattern. It can keep you from sleeping too much during the day. It will also improve the quality of your sleep at night. For the best sleep results, do not exercise within six hours of your bedtime. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Forms of exercise that can help you sleep better include the following:
- Bike riding
- Strength training
You might fall asleep too early at night or wake up too early in the morning. If so, try to get some bright sunlight in the afternoon and evening. This will help to keep your body clock set at the right time. The key is for your eyes to see the light. They send the signals to your brain that will be used to set your body clock. Your skin does not need to be exposed to the sunlight.
If you take a nap during the day, try not to sleep for more than an hour. Your naps should also occur early in the afternoon, before 3:00 pm. Napping longer or later may cause you to have a hard time falling asleep that night.
Some other useful tips are:
- Eat at regular times and don't eat a big meal late at night.
- Avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon – if you want a warm drink before bed have weak tea or a decaffeinated coffee.
- If you cannot fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel sleepy.
- Develop a get-to-sleep ritual that will let you relax before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol for at least 2 hours before bedtime, and do not use alcohol as a sleep aid.
- Try wearing socks to bed; this lowers your core temperature and promotes sleep
- Take a hot bath 90 minutes before bedtime.
- If you find yourself watching the time through the night, place the clock face out of sight. Do not watch the clock.
If this does not care about your sleep problems, tell your doctor about it. He can check any conditions you might have, your medications and let you know if a sleep specialist might help.
The National Sleep Foundation.
National Institutes of Health.