It’s very common for people to sleep less as they age. Changes to our sleep patterns are a normal part of the aging process. As people get older, they have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep than they did when they were younger. Despite what many people assume, adults’ need for sleep doesn’t decline with age. In fact, research shows our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood.
Quality of sleep and quantity of sleep are important for rejuvenating your body and staying healthy. When you don’t sleep well, you can suffer from Excessive Daytime Sleepiness or EDS. EDS can affect a number of things including your memory, attention span, and likelihood of falling. Studies have shown that over a tenth of the elderly population suffer from EDS and other sleep disorders. Those with EDS were twice as likely to have a fall and three times as likely to have a fall resulting in injury.
Two top reasons people lose out on precious hours of sleep are insomnia and sleep apnea. Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. It’s more prevalent than people may realize and affects almost 50% of adults 60 and older, according to the National Institute of Health. This form of sleep deprivation is often debilitating and affects both sleeping and waking hours. Research shows that seniors tend to sleep lighter and for shorter spans, spending less time in REM sleep.
Sleep apnea risk increases as we age. Sleep apnea heightens risk for falls and many other serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If you are experiencing fatigue when you wake, morning headaches, or a feeling of being disoriented, you may be experiencing a lack of oxygen during the night. This could indicate sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when your throat muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, and you can't get an adequate breath in. This may lower the level of oxygen in your blood.
The first step to a better night’s sleep is improving your sleep habits.
Create (or begin):
· A regular sleep/wake schedule
· Exercise early in the day or no later than 4 hours before bed
· A sleep environment that is dark, quiet, safe and comfortable
· Activities that encourage relaxation before bed, such as a warm bath or shower, or calming music.
· Caffeine, other stimulants and alcohol no later than 3 hours before bedtime
· Heavy meals, spicy food, and excessive amounts of liquid before bedtime (a light snack or warm milk is okay)
· Naps (or limit them)
· Activities in bed that may cause anxiety such as work, reading, or television.
Talk to your doctor about your sleep. Your doctor can help assess how serious a problem it is and what to do about it. If you suspect sleep apnea, contact St. Joseph’s Sleep Labs for a sleep study. Franciscan provides sleep therapy education and equipment in a 30 county area of New York and Pennsylvania. Let us help you get a better night’s sleep!