Sleep habits tend to change as an individual ages. Many will find their patterns shifting irregularly between night and day, where they are prone to sleep earlier in the night, and wake up very early in the morning, and gradually it may be harder to fall asleep and you may spend more total time in bed.
This abrupt transition between their sleep and waking patterns makes older people feel like they are a lighter sleeper than when they were younger. As one ages, their body begins to produces less melatonin and cortisol, which are the natural hormones that regulates the sleep cycle. Further factors such as one’s lifestyle habits, or prior health conditions such as anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis can also affect their sleeping pattern as they age.
EFFECT OF CHANGES
Because older people sleep more lightly and wake up more often, they may feel deprived of sleep even when their amount of time spent on sleeping has not changed much.
- Alterations in how the body regulates circadian rhythms make it more difficult for older people to adjust to sudden changes in their sleep schedules. Not getting a full night of sleep can cause irritability, stress, problems with concentration, and mood swings. Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive issues, depression and other health problems.
- Headaches, body aches and weakness can sometimes be attributed to lack of sleep. Disrupted sleep patterns can also lead to narcolepsy, insomnia or hypersomnia, or development of sleep apnea.
Seniors that are having sleeping problems can consult a doctor and prescribe to some medication, though it should be noted that they respond differently to them compared to younger adults. It is very important to talk with a provider before taking sleep medicines. Some of these medicines can lead to dependence or addiction if these sleeping problems are not resolved and may lead can develop side effects such as confusion, delirium and can lead to further health problems if ingested for a long time.
While medicine is readily available, there are more natural solutions that they can adopt in order to ensure a good night’s rest.
- Exercise: Substantial research has shown that older people who exercise regularly fall asleep faster and longer. During exercise the body releases endorphins (hormones that stimulate activity in the brain), and the cooldown period after the endorphin ‘rush’ can help to facilitate better sleep. However it’s important not to exercise at a time that’s too close to your bedtime period, and this applies for everyone regardless of age.
- Reduce distractions/stimulants: Usage of television and cell phones, where blue light from such gadgets inhibits melatonin production, can make it more challenging to fall asleep. Do not use them prior to your bedtime.
- Avoid foods and substances that discourage sleep: Substances like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine can make sleep more challenging as they often. Large meals, or meals that are spicy or may cause incontinence, and sugary foods can cause wakefulness at night. Reduce the intake of both, if not avoid them entirely.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule: Maintain a strict routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. If possible, try to avoid sudden changes in sleep schedules.
- Develop a bedtime routine: Find activities that help you relax before bed. Engage in something relaxing like reading a book, meditation or listening to calm music before bed time. It’s important to have these quiet moments before heading to bed to ensure a good night’s rest.