by Pamela Leland, Executive Director
True or False: People need less sleep as they get older.
Older adults need the same amount of sleep recommended for any adult – 7.5 to 9 hours per night.
Given this, how did the “fact” that older people need less sleep become so solidly rooted in our collective (mis)understanding?
It may be because older adults often have more trouble getting a good night’s sleep than those who are younger.
There are many factors that can disrupt sleep patterns in older adults – health issues, anxiety, medications can all contribute. Frequent urination and pain from arthritis are common sources. The likelihood of sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome also increases with age. All of these can lead to disrupted sleep.
Don’t we all love a good night’s sleep? Isn’t it a delicious feeling to wake in the morning fully rested and ready for the day?
A good night’s sleep and a pattern of good sleeping have many benefits. For older adults, these are significant. A well-regulated sleeping routine is linked to increased alertness, enhanced memory and attention span, improved heart health, reduced use of medications, reduced risk of falls, reduced symptoms of depression, reduced stress and anxiety, and less over-eating. In other words, a good night’s sleep leads to a happier and more active lifestyle.
And when we don’t get enough sleep, don’t we – and those we love – know it? We lack the “get up and go” that we need to take us through our days. We need caffeinated beverages to give us that burst of energy and keep us moving. We might find ourselves nodding off during a social gathering or while watching a television show. We might become short-tempered or irritable with those around us.
For older adults, as with the benefits, the negative impacts can be exacerbated. Older adults who experience disrupted sleep are more likely to have feelings of depression, inability to focus, problems with memory, excessive day-time napping, increased risk of falls, and more use of both over-the counter and prescription sleep aids. If the source of disrupted sleep is sleep apnea, there are added risks for cardiovascular disease, chronic headaches, memory loss, and clinical depression.
Disrupted sleep is something that should be discussed with your physician. There may be a physical issue that is causing the problem. It could also be an indication of problems with medications.
There are, however, things we can all do to try to build a better pattern of sleep. These are things that someone at any age can embrace:
- Get some sun. Regardless of age, being outside each day helps regulate the waking/sleeping cycle.
- Do something physical each day to help us be ready to sleep. This need not be rigorous; even gentle movement like a walk for 15-20 minutes a day can be sufficient.
- Stick to a schedule. Try to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night at approximately the same time each day.
- Limit the use of stimulants like caffeine, sugar or alcohol. And don’t drink alcohol as way to help induce sleep!
- Create a calm and quiet sleeping space. Keep it dark and cool. Avoid watching TV in the bedroom and in fact, turn off all technology. At a minimum, don’t keep your cell phone by the bed.
- Invest in a good mattress.
All of these are possible strategies to help us get a better night’s sleep. But they should not replace a conversation with your physician to ensure that there are not physical causes that need to be addressed or issues related to medications.
The bottom line is that while sleep patterns may change over time, disrupted sleep and waking up tired is not a normal part of aging. Embrace this “truth” and again find the magic of a good night’s sleep.
Published in the Daily Local News, Monday, December 11, 2017