How Does Aging Affect the Quality and Quantity of Sleep?

Older People Often Develop Sleep Problems. Here’s How To Manage Them.

In the US today, there are more than 54 million adults over the age of 65. By 2050, that number is expected to soar to 85.7 million.

As we age, it’s very common to develop problems that affect both the quantity and quality of our sleep. But even though it may be harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, that doesn’t mean we need less sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that people over 65 should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

If not, a lack of sleep can lead to serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart problems, stroke, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Since we all spend about a third of our lives sleeping, it’s important to understand how aging affects our sleep. And what you can do to get a good night’s sleep.

Says Robert Miller, a registered sleep technologist and vice president at Apria, “This is especially important for people with sleep apnea, who already find it challenging to enjoy a good night’s rest.

Signs You May Not Be Getting Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can negatively affect your health in many ways. You may:

  • Feel fatigued during the day
  • Have difficulty remembering things
  • Feel agitated and irritated
  • Have trouble thinking and concentrating
  • Become moody or depressed
  • Be more prone to falling or accidents

Apria’s Robert Miller cautions, “If you’ve experienced any of the above, it may be that you aren’t getting all the sleep you need. It’s also important to create a safe sleep environment.”

How to Reduce Nighttime Accidents So You Can Sleep Better

Here’s what you can do to reduce the risk of falls and accidents in your bedroom:

  • Remove or move trip hazards. Furniture blocking your path, electric cords, and throw rugs can all be hazardous to your health.
  • Never, ever, smoke in bed. (For your health and wellness, don’t smoke –period! – but especially in bed.)
    Keep a telephone by your bed and a list of important phone numbers. Also, update your speed dial. If there’s an emergency, you’ll want to be able to call for help quickly and easily.
  • If you keep a cell phone by your bed, try not to look at email alerts or other notifications that arrive at night since the bright light will interrupt your sleep.
  • Keep a glass of water by your bed in case you get thirsty. (But try not to drink so much that you have to go to the bathroom frequently.)
  • Keep a nightlight easily within reach. You don’t want to be stumbling around in the dark looking for a light switch.
  • Install motion lights or nightlights in bathrooms or halls
  • Be sure you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your house.
  • Before you go to bed, make sure all doors and windows are locked.

Common Reasons Many Older People Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Nearly half of people over the age of 65 say they have at least one sleep problem, which can significantly reduce their quality of life. Some of the most common sleep problems include:

Sleep apnea

Since you are reading this article, chances are you or a loved one has sleep apnea. It’s a common chronic condition that affects more than 22 million Americans.

Sleep apnea happens when a person’s airway is obstructed, which interrupts and even stops breathing during sleep—sometimes hundreds of times throughout the night.

A popular, proven sleep apnea treatment is CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). CPAP involves wearing a mask over your nose or mouth while you sleep. The mask is connected to a machine that delivers a constant flow of air to keep your airways open so you can breathe—and sleep—normally.

Insomnia

Insomnia is the most common sleep problem for older people. It makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s often caused by stress, poor sleep habits, medications, or medical conditions.

Insomnia impacts your energy level, mood, and daily activities—and ultimately your overall health.

Frequent urination at night

What could be more disruptive to healthy sleep than multiple trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Also called nocturia, it’s more common as people age.

Causes include an underlying health condition such as sleep apnea, medications, or drinking too much fluid before bed.

Restless leg syndrome (RSL)

RSL affects up to 20% of older adults. Its main symptom is an overpowering urge to move your legs while you’re resting or sleeping. Causes include iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, some medications, and pregnancy.

Pain

Chronic pain can keep people up at night. People with chronic pain also may experience one or more sleep disorders that can lead to fatigue, diminished energy, depressed mood, and worse pain during the day.

Simple Sleep Tips for Seniors

Follow these simple tips to improve the quality and duration of your sleep:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Create a bedtime routine. Before trying to go to sleep, take a bath, read a book, meditate—anything to help you relax.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable—dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Turn off all your devices—cell phones, computers, tablets—before you turn in.
  • Don’t eat big meals close to bedtime—they can keep you awake.
  • Don’t drink coffee or alcohol before bedtime.
  • Don’t take drugs, except those prescribed by your doctor. Sleep aids can cause daytime drowsiness.
  • Exercise regularly. Older people who exercise fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and enjoy better quality sleep.
  • During the day, try not to nap—or limit naps to no more than 30 minutes.
  • If you have sleep apnea, consider getting a CPAP machine.
It’s common for older people to experience changes in the quality and duration of their sleep. Robert Miller recommends, “If you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. Together, you can make a plan that will help you get the quality rest you need to be healthy.”

About the AuthorApria

Apria is a leading provider of home healthcare equipment and related services across the USA, offering a comprehensive range of products and services for in-home care and delivery of respiratory therapy, obstructive sleep apnea treatment, and negative pressure wound therapy, along with additional equipment and services.

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