Aging and Sleep

As we get older, changes to our sleep patterns occur. In fact, a normal part of the aging process is different sleep. People often report that they have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep as they age. Every night, people achieve sleep, by experiencing periods of light and deep sleep. For the most part, during sleep, our bodies remain still as our minds and body functions race to repair and reset themselves. Some of us even dream, vividly experiencing feelings and sensations all while laying perfectly still.


The trouble with achieving deep sleep

As we age, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep rather than in deep sleep. People often report that they were able to fall asleep but then woke up and could not return to sleep. Our bodies need deep sleep to perform functions on just about every organ, tissue, and system. Individuals suffering from chronic illnesses, like high blood pressure and cancer, need sleep to heal and get batter. Instead, older people report that the next day after poor sleep quality their mood and ability to perform active tasks is affected by fatigue.


The elephant in the bed

Much of the trouble with poor sleep can be attributed to the medications we take to treat chronic conditions. On any given night, almost all drug ads on television contain a warning that the drug being advertised may cause insomnia or trouble sleeping. It’s a catch-22. You need the drug to get better however, the drug will affect your sleep which will make you get worse.


Older people tend to get sleepier in the early evening and wake up in the early morning compared to other age groups. Even with this sleep pattern, for the most part, people get between seven to eight hours of sleep daily. Why older people go to sleep earlier than others is not fully understood and is often linked to light exposure.  


Speak with your medical provider

It is worth your time to consult with your doctor about problems sleeping, including insomnia and snoring problems. Your doctor will be able to recommend behavioral treatments that can immediately help improve the quality of your sleep.


Understanding why you are having trouble sleeping may help diagnose other medical conditions or disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, obesity, restless leg syndrome, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

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