It's no secret that as we age, our sleep patterns change. Many seniors find that long gone are the days of sleeping in. Often, those age 65 and up actually wake up earlier and earlier as they age.
Furthermore, seniors tend to wake up more times during the night. Together, these two factors can result in less overall sleep. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of staying healthy and plays a vital role in our energy levels, immune system, and more.
The goal is to not only fall asleep quickly but also stay asleep throughout the night. Discover the factors that lead to restless sleep and how to resolve them.
When You Can't Fall Asleep…
According to the Sleep Foundation, between 40% and 70% of older adults have chronic sleep issues. Furthermore, almost half of these cases may be undiagnosed. When you have a hard time falling asleep consistently, this is classified as a chronic sleep problem. Chronic sleep problems interfere with daily activity and can reduce the quality of life of older adults. Some common sleep issues that lead to chronic problems include:
- Insomnia: Those who have persistent difficulty falling asleep may be experiencing insomnia. Science Daily reports that one in four Americans have insomnia, and older adults ages 65+ are at a higher risk of experiencing insomnia.
- Pain: As we age, we’re more likely to experience health problems that cause physical pain. Discomfort or pain can cause sleeplessness, which only makes it harder for the body to heal itself.
- Daytime drowsiness: If you have trouble falling asleep during the night, you’re more likely to be tired during the day. While many older adults find naps to be helpful to give them an extra boost of energy, chronic daytime drowsiness and excessive napping can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Struggling to fall asleep is frustrating, whatever the cause. So, how do you combat it? Some helpful tips for falling asleep include:
- Exercise: Those who exercise regularly report better overall sleep.
- Reduce bedroom distractions: It's recommended to remove or turn off electronics one hour before going to bed. The blue light emitted by electronics boosts alertness, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
- Develop a bedtime routine: Creating a routine to follow before bed tells the body that it's time to relax. This could include reading, taking a bath, or simply relaxing. Once you get in the habit of this new schedule, your body will become accustomed to falling asleep at a certain time.
When You Can’t Stay Asleep…
Those who wake up multiple times throughout the night tend to wake up more tired. This is because the body is unable to fall into the natural circadian rhythm and enter REM sleep, or deep sleep. REM sleep is crucial to staying healthy because, during this deep sleep, the body is able to reset, relax and heal. If you’re waking up throughout the night, it may be due to:
- Frequent urination: Nighttime urination, also called nocturia, increases with age due to physical changes in the urinary system. According to the Sleep Foundation, this issue may affect up to 80% of older adults.
- Restless Leg Syndrome: RLS causes the urge to move the leg while sleeping and can affect up to 20% of older adults. This can significantly impact sleep and leave one feeling unrested upon waking up.
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: This disorder most commonly affects older people and causes people to act out their dreams. Not only can this lead to sleep disturbances and waking up, but also pain or discomfort.
If you're having trouble staying asleep throughout the night, it’s best to first address any underlying health factors. If no medications or health conditions are causing you to wake up throughout the night, consider the tips below to help you stay asleep:
- Avoid substances that discourage sleep: Alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and large meals and make staying asleep more challenging. Try to eat dinner or enjoy an alcoholic beverage at least four hours before going to bed.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule: If you take long naps throughout the day, wake up or fall asleep at inconsistent times, or do something out of the ordinary, it can affect your sleep schedule. This may make it more difficult to stay asleep. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule will help train your body to fall and stay asleep without problems.
- Avoid sleeping with pets: While cute and cuddly, pets can often lead to disruptions in sleep. Try putting your pet in a kennel or outside your bedroom when sleeping.
Finally, if you continue to experience sleep problems, talk to your doctor. You may be experiencing an underlying health condition or be taking medication that affects your sleep schedule.