Updated at: 27-12-2021 - By: Jane Brody

There will be an increasing number of elderly people in the United States in the next decades. In fact, by 20401, those 65 and older will account for more than two-thirds of the population in the United States. By 2050, the number of persons over 60 is expected to quadruple, according to the United Nations’ projections.

Many health problems are associated with aging, one of which is sleep deprivation. People over 65 who don’t get enough sleep might suffer from a wide range of health issues, including a decrease in quality of life.

For older persons, understanding how aging affects health is more critical than ever before. The study of the connection between aging and sleep is an essential aspect of promoting general health in the elderly, as we spend almost a third of our lives sleeping.

Why Does Aging Affect Sleep?

Elderly people are more likely than younger people to notice a decline in the quality and length of their sleep. In many cases, the body’s internal clock is responsible for these shifts. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN)3 is a master clock in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that contains roughly 20,000 cells.

Circadian rhythms, or 24-hour cycles, are controlled by the SCN. When people eat, when their bodies release specific hormones and when they feel drowsy or alert, these circadian rhythms play a role.

People’s sleep patterns vary as they become older because of the aging SCN4. Circadian rhythms can be disrupted by deterioration in the SCN’s ability to function properly.

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One of the most important factors in regulating circadian rhythms is light, which the SCN gets from the eyes. Sadly, research suggests that many elderly individuals are only exposed to sunshine for an average of one hour each day, which is not enough. People in nursing homes and those with Alzheimer’s disease may be subjected to even stricter restrictions on their exposure to sunlight.

Age-related sleep disturbances may also be caused by changes in hormone synthesis, such as melatonin and cortisol. People get older, and their bodies generate less melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep by synchronizing circadian cycles.

Health Conditions and Sleep

Sleep can also be disrupted by mental and physical health issues. Sleep disorders in the elderly are often caused by sadness, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses that cause pain and discomfort.

The fact that many older persons have been diagnosed with many health conditions complicates the relationship between physical health and sleep. 24 percent of persons aged 65 to 84 were diagnosed with four or more health issues in the 2003 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll, which looked at 11 common health conditions. Sleep deprivation, poor sleep quality, and indications of a sleep disorder were more common among those with several health conditions.

The side effects of medicine may also cause sleep problems. About 40% of people 65 and older take at least five drugs. Many prescription and over-the-counter medications might cause sleep problems. Antihistamines and opiates, for example, can make you drowsy during the day, while antidepressants and corticosteroids can keep you awake at night and exacerbate the symptoms of insomnia in the elderly. Unexpected effects on sleep may be caused by the interaction of numerous drugs.

Lifestyle and Sleep

Elderly people may have trouble sleeping because of the lifestyle changes that accompany aging. When a person retires, for example, he or she may spend less time working outside the house and more time napping. Loss of independence and social isolation are two other major life changes that can exacerbate stress and anxiety, both of which can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to sleep.

How Does Aging Affect Sleep?

People’s reactions to aging vary. Despite the fact that some older persons may be able to get a good night’s sleep, others complain of a lack of sleep and poor sleep quality. Elderly people are more likely to suffer from a variety of sleep disorders.

  • Shifting sleep schedule: The body’s circadian rhythms migrate forward in time as we become older. A phase advance is the name given to this movement. This stage of aging is marked by an earlier onset of fatigue and an earlier rise in the morning for many older persons.
  • Waking up at night: As we get older, our sleep patterns tend to shift as well, according to studies. When it comes to sleep, architecture refers to the various stages of sleep that a person experiences. The earlier, lighter stages of sleep are favored by the elderly, while the later, deeper stages of sleep are less frequent in the elderly. People in their 60s and 70s may be experiencing less restful sleep as a result of these changes.
  • Daytime napping: More than two-thirds of older persons take naps, whereas only eight percent of younger adults do, according to a new study. Short midday nap may be good, but many believe that long daytime napping and later-in-the-day napping might make it difficult to sleep at night and cause sleep disturbances.
  • Longer recovery from changes in sleep schedule: It is more difficult for older adults to acclimatize to rapid changes in their sleep cycles, such as during daylight savings time or when experiencing jet lag, due to alterations in circadian rhythms.

Do Older People Need Less Sleep?

That older people need less sleep than younger people is a myth9, according to the National Institute on Aging. Many older folks find it difficult to get the sleep they need, but this does not imply that they need less sleep than younger people. It appears that the decline in the amount of sleep a person requires from childhood to maturity stops around the age of 60. If you are over 65, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you receive seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

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Senior man in bathrobe sitting on bed looking down thinking

Common Sleep Issues in Seniors

About 40% to 70% of people over the age of sixty-five suffer from sleep disorders that go undiagnosed11, according to the research. An elderly person’s quality of life can be greatly impacted by chronic sleep issues. Elderly people are more likely to suffer from sleep problems such as:

  • Pain: Some elderly folks may not get enough sleep because of their discomfort and pain. Talk to a doctor if pain is interfering with your ability to get a good night’s sleep, as it can lead you to suffer from greater pain.
  • Nighttime urination: Physical changes in the urinary system and other factors contribute to an increase in nighttime urinating, known as nocturia. As many as 80% of elderly persons may be affected by this problem, which can cause sleep disturbances.
  • Insomnia: One of the most prevalent sleep problems among the elderly is trouble falling or staying asleep. Treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of insomnia, which can be caused by a variety of circumstances.
  • Daytime drowsiness: It’s a common misconception that growing older means getting more exhausted during the day. Excessive daytime sleepiness affects over 20% of the elderly population, and it could be indicative of something more serious than simply becoming older. For seniors, excessive daytime sleepiness could be a sign of sleep apnea, dementia, or a heart condition.
  • Sleep Apnea: Breathing pauses can occur if you have obstructive sleep apnea. When the upper airway collapses or partially collapses, the patient experiences pauses in breathing. Sleep apnea disrupts sleep and lowers oxygen levels in the blood, resulting in fatigue, headaches, and trouble thinking properly the next day.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome: 9-20% of the elderly suffer from restless leg syndrome, while 4-11% of the population experience periodic limb movements during sleep (PLMS). RLS is characterized by an incessant need to move one’s legs while lying down or sleeping. The lower limbs, particularly the feet, are affected by PLMS. Sleep and quality of life can be greatly affected by both illnesses.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder: For the most part, REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) affects the elderly. Unlike most individuals, those with this disease are able to act out their dreams, sometimes violently, while asleep.

Sleep Tips for Seniors

Getting a better night’s sleep as you age has been demonstrated to be doable in studies. It’s common for these phases to include an emphasis on improving sleep hygiene and creating healthy sleep habits. To help you sleep better in your golden years, here are a few suggestions:

  • Exercise: Exercising on a regular basis improves the quality of sleep for older adults. Taking regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health as an older adult. Tips for exercising safely as an elderly person are provided by the National Institute on Aging.
  • Reduce bedroom distractions: Bright lights, such as those from televisions and cell phones, might make it more difficult to drift off to sleep. Don’t turn on the television before bed, and try not to fall asleep while it’s on. The bedroom should only be used for sleeping and sex, not for devices.
  • Avoid substances that discourage sleep: Alcohol, smoke, caffeine, and even huge dinners late in the day might make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Put off eating dinner until at least four hours before going to bed, stop smoking, and reduce your caffeine intake.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule: Be mindful of the fact that aging makes it more difficult to recuperate from a night of sleep lost. Avoid making drastic adjustments to your sleep regimen. As a rule, you should go to bed and rise at the same time each day, and you should avoid taking extended naps.
  • Develop a bedtime routine: Begin your night with activities that will help you wind down. Taking a bath, reading a book, or spending some peaceful time before bedtime are common pastimes among the elderly.

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Safe Sleeping for Seniors

Elderly people who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to falls and accidents. Make adjustments to the bedroom environment as people get older to lessen the chance of accidents and make it easier to get help if necessary. In order to have a better night’s sleep, consider the following suggestions:

  • Keep a telephone by the bed: It’s critical to be able to summon assistance from the comfort of your bed. Place your phone on your nightstand, as well as a list of your most often used contacts. Keep a cell phone away from you if it receives too many notifications at night or if there is a strong desire to glance at the bright screen..
  • Make sure a light is within reach: When getting out of bed, having a light nearby decreases the risk of tripping and falling. If you’re looking for the lightswitch, you’ll be less likely to trip or fall as a result of this. In hallways or the bathroom, motion-sensing lights may be useful.
  • Reduce hazards in the bedroom: Avoid putting rugs, cords, stools, and furniture in the bedroom, as these items can be tripping risks.

What Causes Sleep Problems With Age?

Reasons for this include: If you don’t stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up time, your body’s internal clock will be disrupted, making it even more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. If you drink alcohol before bedtime, take too many naps, or stay in bed when you’re not sleeping, you’re doing yourself a disservice at any age.
Medications: You may have difficulty falling or staying asleep if you take certain medications. Ask your doctor if you think that’s the case for you.

Worry, stress, or grief. Many aspects of one’s life alter as one ages. It appears that some people have a bright outlook. Others are a lot more difficult. The stress of losing a loved one, moving away from home, or developing a condition that alters your life can interfere with your ability to sleep.

Consult with your doctor or a mental health professional if you or a loved one are experiencing changes like these. It may help you get a good night’s sleep by calming your nerves.

Sleep disorders: Sleep disorders include apnoea, restless legs syndrome, periodic leg twitching, and REM behavior disorder. One of these disorders can be diagnosed by an examination by a medical professional.

Too much downtime. As we get older, many of us choose to keep physically active. However, if your days are excessively sedentary, it may be more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

Do You Get Enough Sleep?

Everyone has their own unique characteristics. If you sleep less today than you did when you were younger, but you still feel refreshed and energized during the day, it may be that you no longer require as much sleep as you did in your youth.

Your doctor should know if you’re experiencing daytime effects from a lack of sleep. There are ways to improve your sleep. In many cases, these are easy changes to your everyday routine, such as a regular bedtime and a more active lifestyle.

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