Often people think of trouble sleeping as simply a part of growing older. It is not.
The body does require less sleep as we age, but severe sleeping problems or insomnia in the elderly are caused by poor sleep habits, side effects of medications, untreated sleep disorders or other medical conditions.
They are not a part of normal aging.
We either can’t get to sleep or we think of sleep as wasted time.
What goes on while we’re lying there? Our bodies are doing necessary work that keeps us going when we’re awake.
For optimal functioning, seniors usually need seven to eight hours, while other adults need seven to nine.
The problem is that poor sleep, especially in older adults, has been linked to greater risk for heart disease, obesity, falls, disability, dementia, memory problems, brain-function decline and depression.
At any age, a good night’s sleep is important, but for seniors already facing cognitive difficulties and weakened immune systems that come with age, enough sleep is even more critical. Lack of sleep can affect concentration and memory, as well as suppress cell repair and the immune system.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation found there is a direct relationship between general health and enough sleep in older people. According to the study, the better the health of an older person, the better sleep they reported. The survey also said that respondents older than 65 who reported seven to nine hours of sleep per night and experienced little or no sleep problems had more positive moods and had more active and engaged lifestyles.
On the other hand, the greater the number of diagnosed medical conditions, the more likely those in the study were to report sleep problems.
There are many reasons our sleep patterns may change as we age. Some of the most common are:
- Poor sleep habits — The most common cause of insomnia in seniors is poor “sleep hygiene,” or an inappropriate sleep environment. Examples of a poor sleep environment include too many naps during the day, keeping irregular sleep hours or consuming caffeine or alcohol drinks in the evening.
- Pain — The pain of arthritis, cancer or other debilitating and chronic conditions can keep the elderly from sleeping properly.
- Medical conditions — Medical conditions can affect sleep in ways other than pain. Conditions that cause a frequent need to urinate, Alzheimer’s, asthma and other breathing disorders, menopause, GERD or diabetes all can interfere with sleep.
- Medications — The average senior is taking six to eight prescription drugs. Some drug interactions can cause insomnia.
- Lack of exercise — Regular exercise promotes better sleep.
- Stress and emotional disorders — Many seniors suffer from stress and anxiety due to some of the major life changes brought on by aging or retirement. Stress and anxiety can lead to lack of sleep.
In general, any elderly person experiencing sleep problems should implement good sleep habits and keep up daily physical activity to help create an environment conducive to restive sleep. Limit caffeine consumption, take a 10- to 30-minute power nap in the early afternoon, don’t consume alcohol prior to sleeping, limit intake of all fluids just before bed, keep the room dark and avoid blue light from phones and computers in the room.
Stay safe and sleep better.
Al Brandenburg is a member of Maricopa Community Advocates.