It doesn’t take a room full of researchers to tell you that if you don’t sleep well, you don’t feel well. And yet, many people drag on day after day with insufficient sleep, thinking, “I’m getting older, I guess this is part of it.”
A lack of sleep is not something you should just accept as normal for aging. It’s not! Experts say older people should be getting about the same amount of sleep they did as adolescents: between 7 to 9 hours each night. You can blame poor sleep on aging, to an extent, but don’t let it be your burden to bear.
How Sleep Changes As We Age
Older people don’t spend as much time in deep sleep as younger people. For one, aging bodies produce less melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Also, older people experience a change in their circadian rhythm, their body’s natural cycles, making them more likely to feel sleepy earlier in the evening and, therefore, ready to wake earlier in the morning.
Other sleep disturbances or disorders are likely to affect older people as well, including:
- Health conditions including chronic pain or restless leg syndrome as well as side effects from medications can interfere with sleep.
- Alzheimer’s or other neurological problems. Not surprisingly, people without serious medical problems or psychological illness report better sleep.
- Consumption of alcohol or caffeine in excess–or even at all.
- Sedentary lifestyles. Not moving enough during the day lulls your body into lethargy. The benefits of stretching muscles and increasing your heart rate are numerous.
- Frequent urination at night is tough to ignore, often attributed to prostate issues in men and incontinence in women.
Tips for Getting Better Sleep
First, seek treatment for medical problems. An article on WebMD described a man who felt continuously tired, even after sleeping more than 10 hours a night. A diagnosis of both sleep apnea, which caused his body to wake frequently all night, and an irregular heart rhythm were keeping his body from getting the rest it needed. Medical intervention, including a pacemaker and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, help him sleep soundly again.
Lifestyle changes are key. Limit or do away with caffeine and alcohol. Make sure you’re not eating large meals or snacks right before bedtime, and work physical activity into your daily schedule.
Seek daylight during daylight hours. Exposing your body to sunshine boosts your vitamin D counts and also helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Do activities, even if it’s reading or crossword puzzles in any room besides your bedroom. Save that space only for intimacy and sleeping.
Don’t wait to fall asleep. According to the National Institute of Health, research has shown that in adults over 65, 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women took more than 30 minutes to fall asleep. Try reading a book, listening to soothing music, or taking a warm shower or bath to help yourself feel relaxed.
Sleep deprivation at any age can cause health issues, from attention and memory problems to depression and regular nighttime trips to the bathroom put the elderly at an increased risk for falls. Don’t chalk the restless nights or groggy days to old age. Do you know your sleep stuff? Test your sleep IQ.