Senior Care Topics: Sleep Changes with Aging

Do you wish you could sleep better?

senior care Montgomery county, PAI get frustrated when I can’t stay awake in the evening to read or watch TV, but am  wide-awake at 4:00 AM.  Then I have at least another hour until the alarm clock is scheduled to ring!

Many years ago when I worked in inpatient mental health, the prevailing wisdom was that seniors need less sleep as they age.  Newer research has now shown that our need for sleep remains fairly consistent throughout our adult lives.

As we all know first hand, with the aging process our brains, bodies, and minds do change.  And so do our sleep patterns.  For example, as people age they often have more trouble falling asleep,  staying asleep, and have more wake-ups during the night than when they were younger.  Sleep studies have also shown that older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in the deep sleep stage know as REM (rapid eye movement).  As a result of these factors older people often report feeling not well rested.

Several factors are thought to contribute to these changes in sleep patterns including:

  1. Circadian rhythms (our internal bodily clocks) seem to change as we age, although the research isn’t clear as to why this happens.  This is thought to be one of the main causes why older people often become sleepier in the early evening and wake earlier in the morning.
  2. Many medical conditions can contribute to sleep changes including:
    1. excessive snoring
    2. obesity
    3. sleep apnea
    4. restless leg syndrome
    5. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
    6. diabetes mellitus
    7. renal failure
    8. respiratory diseases such as asthma
    9. immune disorders
    10. Parkinson's disease
    11. Multiple Sclerosis
    12. Various medications, often added to treat other physical ailments as we age, are thought to contribute to some sleep challenges-- this is a general medication side effect, albeit one we don’t usually think of.

So, what can seniors do about all of this?

First be sure to discuss it with your family doctor.  Together you can determine the overall affect your sleep issues are having on your health.  If your condition is serious enough, your physician may send you for a sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea or some other readily identified sleep disorder.

If you decide your lack of sleep is more annoying than pathological, you can try things like avoiding drinking liquids in the evening, avoiding caffeine after noon, and avoiding daytime naps.

OK, let’s go stay awake until 9 or 10 PM and then catch those zzzzz’s until 5 or 6 AM!  I’ll try if you will!

For more additional information you can visit the National Sleep Foundation web site.