You’ve likely heard that as we grow older, we require less sleep. Some people believe it’s why many seniors get up so darn early. But sleep experts disagree. Adults need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night no matter their age.
What does change, however, is the prevalence of insomnia and other sleep disorders. Research shows that as many as 50% of people over the age of 60 suffer from a sleep disorder. A senior might struggle to get a good night’s rest and give up trying. They eventually settle for a short night of less-than-ideal sleep. This may be the origin of the myth that older adults need less sleep.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition that causes people to have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Sleep occurs in several stages, starting with a light, dreamless slumber. It continues on to periods of active dreaming, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. As we age, these patterns often change. The amount of time you spend in each sleep stage can be disrupted. It can cause seniors to wake up frequently throughout the night or to awaken and be unable to fall back asleep.
A few common signs of insomnia are:
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Poor quality, non-restful sleep
- Waking up at least three times throughout the night
Why Seniors Often Experience Trouble Sleeping
Sleep disorders in seniors can be the result of a variety of medical issues, some of which can be treated. For example, certain health conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, anxiety, depression, or sleep apnea can make quality sleep tougher to come by. Another factor might be chronic pain. Illnesses such as osteoarthritis or an autoimmune disease often cause persistent pain that makes a good night’s rest more challenging.
Environment might play a role, too. If a senior’s bedroom is too bright, warm, or noisy, it can interfere with rest. Then there is the possibility that poor sleep is a side effect of a medication. Beta blockers—a class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and angina—are prescribed for many seniors and can increase the risk for insomnia.
Finally, a lack of exercise is another possibility. Too much sitting can make you feel tired and sluggish, but that doesn’t translate to good quality sleep. According to the National Library of Medicine, a lack of exercise is associated with insomnia at every age.
Ways to Beat Insomnia and Get a Good Night’s Rest
If you just aren’t able to consistently sleep well, a few suggestions include:
- Sticking with a routine: Routines provide structure. That helps both the mind and body. Try going to bed at night and getting up in the morning at the same time every day. Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before heading to bed. Engaging in soothing activities that help you unwind, such as reading or taking a warm bath, might also work.
- Creating a peaceful environment: The bedroom should be a calm and peaceful place. It’s important to have a good mattress and soft sheets. Another tip for creating a relaxing sleep environment is to turn the thermostat down a bit overnight.
- Working out in the morning: While exercise is important and aids in promoting good sleep, it can raise your body’s core temperature and boost adrenaline. Try to work out in the morning or at least three hours before bedtime.
- Avoiding late-day naps: If you can avoid taking a daily nap altogether, that’s best. However, if you have to nap, do so earlier in the day. That helps prevent daytime shut-eye from interfering with your ability to fall asleep.
- Limiting stimulants: Caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants should be consumed in moderation and avoided completely later in the day. While they may not prevent you from falling asleep, they often cause people to wake up in the night and be unable to return to sleep.
- Clearing your mind: Try to deal with the worries of your day before getting into bed. Quiet the mind and focus on peaceful thoughts. Meditation, journaling, stretching, and other activities that promote emotional resilience can be beneficial.
If your best efforts at getting a good night’s rest don’t yield results, it’s likely time to see the doctor. They might be able to figure out the root cause or schedule an overnight sleep study.
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