Older adults often struggle with insomnia and sleep pattern alterations that inhibit rest and makeit difficult to function normally during the day. Lost sleep can be harmful, especially for seniorswho are vulnerable to illness. The perception that seniors don’t need as much sleep because they aren’t as active is inaccurate and misleading.
Depression and anxiety as well as memory problems are frequently seen in sleep-deprived seniors. In order to maintain good health and a normal, happy lifestyle, older adults need to resolve sleep problems and aim for seven to nine hours a night.
Getting used to changes in sleep
Seniors don’t get as much deep sleep because as we age the body doesn’t produce as much
human growth hormone. Consequently, less melatonin is produced, which means you may
experience more fragmented sleep and wake up periodically through the night. Understanding
these natural changes in the body can help you make adjustments. For example, you may elect
to go to bed earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning, or start taking naps in the
afternoon to make up for lost sleep at night.
However, if you are irritable during the day or don’t feel physically and mentally refreshed, it
could indicate a sleep problem that’s unrelated to the aging process that needs to be
addressed. Certain medications can cause sleep problems, as can depression and stress.
Sleep apnea, which can cause sleep deprivation, is a condition that sometimes goes
undiagnosed. All of these causes are treatable problems, the resolution of which can restore
your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes, just spending more time in the sunshine,
social interaction, and starting an exercise routine can do wonders for your sleep patterns.
Sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder and RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) are
conditions that can undermine the body’s ability to achieve deep and restorative sleep. Sleep
apnea is a potentially dangerous disorder in which breathing periodically stops and starts. It can
lead to insomnia and is often present in patients with cardiovascular disease. RLS is a disorder
of the nervous system that causes involuntary leg movement, while periodic limb movement
disorder causes cramping or jerking of the legs during sleep. If you’re experiencing any of these
symptoms or something similar, be sure to speak with your doctor. Medicare coverage applies
to certain types of sleep apnea tests and therapies, including a polysomnogram and continuous
positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Be aware that Medicare Parts A and B help cover
seniors with specific sleeping disorders, but it doesn’t cover all of them.
Pay attention to sleep habits
Poor sleep habits are another common cause of sleep deprivation. Make sure your sleep space
is dark, quiet, comfortable, and remains at a cool temperature. Leaving the TV or computer on,
or even sleeping with a smartphone nearby, can produce artificial light that can impede the
production of melatonin, sometimes called the “sleep hormone.” Stick to a regular bedtime
routine. If possible, retire at about the same time each night and establish a “wind-down” routine
by listening to relaxing music, meditating or doing deep breathing exercises.
Exercise and a healthy diet
Regular exercise and a healthy diet contribute to good health and productive sleep among
people of all ages. Try walking or swimming and do stretching exercises during the day to get
your heart rate up and improve muscle flexibility. Avoid foods high in refined sugar as well as
processed foods. Introduce items that can help induce sleep, such as yogurt, bananas, eggs,
and warm milk in the evening.
The right mattress
Your mattress has a lot to do with how well you sleep at night. It should support your body in the
right places, aid back health and contribute to restful sleep. Be picky when choosing a mattress.
Sleeping on one that’s too hard or too soft can play havoc with your sleep patterns, and bear in
mind that you should change mattresses every seven to 10 years.
Education, exercise, diet and proper sleep habits can alleviate many of the sleep problems that
seniors experience. It’s important to acknowledge the difference between altered sleep patterns
caused by age and those that represent a problem that needs attention. Consult your doctor if a
problem persists despite changes in diet, activity and sleep habits.