Are Seniors Sleeping Better than Before?
Sleep is one of the most important factors for a healthy lifestyle, but as seniors age, sleep patterns can get disrupted. How can seniors combat poor sleep so age-related ailments are kept at bay?
Different Sleep, Not Less Sleep
One of the biggest myths surrounding seniors and sleep is they don’t need a lot of it. From about the time an adult is in his or her 20s to old age, they still require roughly the same hours of total sleep, averaging seven to nine hours. But how seniors sleep differs: while they may not sleep the average seven to nine each night in one shot, it’s made up for with day naps. As people age, their bodies produce lower levels of human growth hormone, which means less slow wave, or deep, sleep. As such, the circadian rhythm changes and seniors tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
One issue that contributes to the “seniors need less sleep” myth is actually rooted in sleep deprivation, with two basic kinds: insomnia, and apnea. Of course, there are many more reasons for sleep deprivation, but these are two common causes seen in seniors.
Difficulty falling asleep (onset insomnia) or staying asleep (maintenance insomnia) can be indicative of health problems in seniors, triggered by medications, or caused by anxiety, alcohol or coffee consumption, or depression. There are many reasons for insomnia, with not many of them “normal.”
If seniors suffer from insomnia, they should keep a sleep diary to discuss with their doctor. And if insomnia is diagnosed, it can make more sense to treat the underlying issues causing it, which can often remove the insomnia. Some typical treatments include stopping exercise four hours before bedtime, sleeping in a cool and dark environment, maintaining a regular sleep schedule (even if sleep is elusive), and engaging in calming activities before bed.
When a person falls asleep, their muscles relax and hang limply on the bed. One of these is the tongue, which, when relaxed, falls back into the throat. In a normal or thin person, the tongue doesn’t fall back far enough to block airflow but in an overweight or unhealthy person, not as much air gets through. Sometimes, there’s a tiny sliver where air can get through, but snoring results, emsafety – ways to stop snoring. But when no air can get through, these non-breathing pauses can last anywhere from seconds to minutes.
When a person stops breathing dozens to hundreds of times a night, it can severely affect how they feel during the day. Fatigue and sleepiness are extremely common, with these issues resulting in attentional and concentration difficulties, poor judgement, physical inertia, and more.
Recently, studies have shown that sleep apnea has more dire consequences. One, presented at the American Thoracic Society Conference in 2013, has shown a correlative link between Alzheimer’s and sleep apnea, although it’s too soon to say that Alzheimer’s is the cause of sleep apnea. Another has linked sudden cardiac death to sleep apnea, with those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to die suddenly in their sleep from heart-related problems. Further, the likelihood of dying was correlated with the severity of apnea, as lower levels of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide can strain an already weak heart to the breaking point.
While it’s not 100% clear if all seniors are sleeping better than before, the fact that medical knowledge and technology is the best it’s ever been gives seniors the tools they need for a good night’s sleep.