“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”
As we get older, our sleep patterns change. However, a good night’s sleep is essential to our physical health and emotional well-being.
More than half of men and women over the age of 65 years complain of at least one sleep problem. Many older people experience insomnia and other sleep difficulties on a regular basis.
Several factors can contribute to our inability to sleep well as we get older. Some of the common causes include:
Poor sleep habits
Irregular sleep-wake patterns can affect an individual’s circadian rhythm and make it hard to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Consuming alcohol or caffeine before bedtime, increased wakeful time in bed, or daytime napping — will also affect a person’s ability to sleep.
Certain chronic medical conditions are common in older people. Some of these conditions —including heart failure, arthritis, heartburn, menopause, and Alzheimer’s disease — affect sleep. These conditions can make it hard to fall sleep or might cause the person to awaken frequently, ultimately affecting the quantity and the quality of sleep.
Some medicines might impair a person’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, and might even stimulate wakefulness at night.
Psychological distress or psychiatric disorders
Old age is characterized by many life-events, some positive and some negative. Some older individuals experience psychological difficulties or psychiatric disorders that will affect the quality and quantity of sleep. Depression is twice as common in elderly compared to young adults, and this can significantly affect the quality and the amount of sleep. Also, life changes such as the death of a loved one, moving from a family home, or physical limitations due to illness, can cause significant stress and sleep difficulties.
Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome (RLS) can affect the quality of sleep. The risk of sleep apnea increases with old age (particularly in women) and affects not just sleep but also the heart and brain. These disorders are treatable and thus can improve sleep.
Retirement often leads to a lot of downtime with no specific plans. This often leads to an irregular sleep-wake schedule and chronic sleep problems.
Are you getting enough sleep?
Every person’s sleep needs are different. However, if you are noticing that your lack of sleep is affecting your daytime activities, you should investigate the cause of your sleeplessness and take steps to get better rest. Consult a doctor if you have concerns about your sleeping patterns.