It is not uncommon to experience some changes to your sleep pattern as you get older. For example, you may begin to get tired earlier in the day, wake up earlier each morning and have a harder time entering the REM stages of sleep. This is all part of the aging process.
However, there are signs of sleep disorders that all individuals should look out for as they age. Below, we talk about the changes you can expect in sleep quality as you age and the ones you shouldn’t put up with.
Aging And Sleep Quality: What Can We Expect?
Have you ever heard someone say that you need less sleep as you get older? Well, that’s incorrect.
Our bodies, no matter what age they may be, need between 7-9 hours of good sleep quality each night in order to function optimally the next day. But often as we age, our ability to get that many hours of sleep decreases.
Why is this? Our melatonin production reduces as we get older. Melatonin is the hormone that is needed to control the circadian rhythm (i.e our sleep/wake cycle). When less of this hormone is being produced, it is harder for our body to fall and stay asleep. Many studies have reported that older adults experience more instances of sleep latency (longer time to fall asleep) and an increase in sleep fragmentation (waking more frequently during the night).
These changes are normal and shouldn’t be cause for alarm. So, when it comes to our sleep quality, getting fewer hours of sleep each night and waking up more frequently is one of the most noticeable changes we can expect.
Common Sleep Disorders To Be Aware Of
Now that you know your sleep quality will change, there are some sleep abnormalities that you should always look out for when you age.
Getting older doesn’t mean that consistent nights of restless sleep is something to be accepted and attributed to old age. If you frequently wake up feeling fatigued, then it could be a sign that you are suffering from a sleep disorder.
In fact, there are many sleep disorders that commonly experienced by older adults. These include but are not limited to:
Insomnia: According to research, up to 25% of older adults will experience symptoms of insomnia, whether acute or chronic. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by the difficulty of falling asleep regardless of attempts to do so and poor daytime functioning. Without treatment, it can lead to cognitive decline, depression, increased levels of anxiety and chronic fatigue.
Snoring & Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Snoring is normal among adults but often can be a sign of the sleep disorder, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). This sleep disorder is commonly found among older adults as it can manifest itself through other health conditions. OSA occurs as a result of the soft tissue in the throat collapsing during sleep causing the individual to jerk awake in order to breathe. Snoring is often considered as a sign of OSA.
Restless Leg Syndrome: This condition causes sensations of itching, crawling or restlessness in the individual. The symptoms are not painful but can be unpleasant, making it harder for the individual to fall and stay asleep. The causes of this sleep disorder are still misunderstood but believed to be associated with iron and dopamine levels in the brain.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Disorder: This is another sleep disorder that commonly found as part of elderly sleep patterns. Patients with REM disorder display complex motor activities during their sleep. They are often described as acting out their dreams by punching, kicking, yelling or jumping as a result of vivid dreams.
If you or one of your loved ones is experiencing symptoms that may suggest they have any of the sleep disorders noted above, it is important to speak with a sleep physician as soon as possible.
They will be able to identify whether you are suffering from a disorder that is affecting your sleep quality more than normal by running medical checks and a sleep study.
Sleep Tips For Older Adults
While our sleeping patterns will change as we get older, there are ways that all adults can ensure that they are achieving good sleep quality. All you need is to incorporate some simple tips into your daily routine.
If you are taking medication, review these with your doctor to see if they are impacting your sleep quality. Waking up at night due to pain? Discuss with your doctor which over the counter pain relievers would be best to take.
Practicing a nightly sleep routine and creating an optimal sleep environment is also highly recommended. Try out some of the following tips:
Stop drinking fluids two hours before bedtime to minimize the number of times you have to go to the bathroom during the night
Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Remove all sources of light such as TVs, mobile devices and computer screens.
Limit daytime naps to between 10 and 20 minutes. If possible, avoid napping at all during the day to ensure you can fall asleep at night.
Speak to your doctor about taking a melatonin supplement if you find it hard to fall asleep. This supplement can help to regulate your circadian rhythm, allowing you to fall asleep more easily.
Aiming to get between 7-9 hours each night should be a top priority no matter what age you are. If you are experiencing chronic fatigue and inability to sleep at night, make sure that you speak with a sleep specialist to rule out a sleep disorder.
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