Sleep Changes in Aging Adults

Published 05-02-2016 in

          There is a common misconception that older people need less sleep than younger people.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, our sleep needs do not change during adulthood, they tend to remain constant.  What may change over time is our sleep patterns and even our sleep habits.

          It is recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.  Sleep needs vary for everyone so if a person is getting less sleep but still feels rested and energetic, he is getting the right amount.  Some signs you might not be getting enough sleep include irritability, forgetfulness, depression, increase in clumsiness or falls and sleepiness during the day.

          Many older adults say they are less satisfied with the sleep they are getting and report feeling more tired throughout the day.  Why do adults experience changes in sleep patterns?  It turns out, there are many reasons.  Life changes can impact sleep quality.  Death of a loved one, illness or disease and even moving are all stressful life experiences.  These situations can disrupt sleep and reduce the overall quality of sleep a person is getting.  Retirement is another life change that can impact sleep.  Quite often, when someone retires, they experience more downtime and less physical activity during the day.  These changes may impact sleep patterns.

          Chronic health conditions and the medications that treat them can also impact overall sleep quality in aging adults.  Physical conditions like arthritis, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome may make falling asleep more difficult.  Being overweight can also cause sleep disruption.  Snoring is one of the most common causes of sleep disruption and is common in those who are overweight.  Snoring often become worse with age.

          Another health condition that can change sleeping habits in older adults is Alzheimer’s Disease.  Alzheimer’s causes some people to sleep too much and some to sleep too little.  Some Alzheimer’s patients may wake up many times in the middle of the night and some may wander or yell out.  If you are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s you may experience sleeplessness as a result.  Be sure to ask for help if you find yourself feeling exhausted.  Here are a few other hints for the safety of your loved one experiencing sleep disruptions due to Alzheimer’s Disease:

1) Clear the floor of objects and trip hazards
2) Lock medicines
3) Use gates to block stairs during the night.       

          Despite the potential for changes in sleep patterns, there are still ways to get a good night sleep as we age.  If you are feeling sleepy as you read this article, try some of these behavior modification tips to ensure you are getting your best night sleep.

1) Limit daytime naps.
2) Avoid alcohol before bed.
3) Stick to a regular bedtime.
4) Turn off the computer and TV about an hour before bed.
5) Take that hour to relax by reading a book or doing some light yoga.
6) Spend less time in bed.  Train your brain to know that the bed is for sleeping, not for watching TV or working on the computer. 
7) Once in bed, relax your body from your toes up.   
8) If you get into bed and try to relax but don’t feel sleepy, get up for a while and try again a little later.  Don’t lie in bed awake (See #6).

          Chronic sleep disruption or insomnia can lead to serious health problems.  If left untreated, a condition like sleep apnea can increase risk of heart disease, headaches and depression.  It is always worthwhile to talk to your doctor if you have trouble sleeping. 

Proctor Place is a Life Care Retirement Community.  For more information about Proctor Place or to schedule a personalized tour, please contact Amy Durbin at (309)566-4204 or contact us here.