It’s no surprise that your body goes through some changes as you age. But some people may be unaware that your sleep patterns can also change as you grow older.
What does not appear to change is how much sleep you need. According to the National Institute of Health, sleep needs do not change later in life. Although the amount of sleep adults need varies individually, typically you don’t need less sleep later in life.
Still, getting a good night’s sleep may be harder to come by as you get older. For instance, some people have trouble falling or staying asleep. Waking up several times a night may also be an issue as you age.
What Causes Increased Sleep Problems in Later Life?
Several factors may contribute to sleep problems later in life including the following:
Decreased production of melatonin: According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, studies have indicated that melatonin production may decrease as you age. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. If less is melatonin is produced, sleep may be affected.
Chronic medical problems: Conditions that may affect good quality sleep also tend to occur more frequently as we grow older. For example, although arthritis and back problems can develop at any age, they are more common in older adults. Both conditions can cause you to toss and turn and interfere with getting a good night’s rest.
Advanced sleep phase syndrome: Advanced sleep phase syndrome is a sleep disorder in which you fall asleep much earlier than a typical bedtime and wake up earlier. For example, if you used to go to bed at 10 p.m., but have developed a pattern of falling asleep at 6 and waking at 3 a.m., it might be due to advanced sleep phase syndrome. It occurs when the rhythm of your internal clock is off. It tends to occur more frequently in the elderly.
Consequences of poor sleep
Just like proper nutrition and exercise, sleep is vital for overall wellbeing. Quality sleep and good health are connected. If you don’t get the sleep you need, it can have several consequences. For instance, problems with memory may increase as you age, and poor sleep can make the issue worse. Lack of restorative sleep can also lead to following:
- Increased fall risk
- Mood changes
- Weight gain
- Problems concentrating
Improving Sleep as You Age
It’s important to get good quality sleep at any age. Individual sleep needs are influenced by many factors, such as genetics and activity level. But most adults including the elderly need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Ideally, you should wake up naturally without the need for an alarm clock. Consider the following tips:
Stick to a schedule: Try to go to sleep at around the same time each night. Keeping to the same schedule helps you set your internal clock and improves your quality of sleep.
Consider medication schedule: If possible, avoid getting up in the middle of the night to take medication. But always talk with your doctor about your medication schedule before making any changes.
Exercise: Exercising on a regular basis is good for your waistline, heart and may also improve sleep. Exercise promotes relaxation. If you feel less stressed, you might fall asleep easier. Keep in mind, when it comes to sleep, the timing of your workout is important. Working out too close to bedtime can raise your body temp and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Treat underlying medical conditions: Many medical conditions can make it harder to get good sleep. For instance, if you’re dealing with medical problems, such as chronic pain, asthma or bladder problems, they can interfere with getting the shuteye you need. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any medical issues that may be interfering with your sleep.
National Institute of Health. Sleep and Aging. https://nihseniorhealth.gov/sleepandaging/aboutsleep/01.html Retrieved October 2016.
Family Doctor.org. Sleep Changes in Older Adults. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/seniors/staying-healthy/sleep-changes-in-older-adults.html Retrieved October 2016.
Author: MaryAnn DePietro, CRT A medical writer and licensed respiratory therapist with over a decade of clinical experience. MaryAnn DePietro has been published in magazines, newspapers and on health websites. She earned degrees in both respiratory therapy and rehabilitation. As a therapist, she has worked with hundreds of patients with medical conditions, such as COPD, asthma, sleep apnea and cancer.