It’s no secret that regular quality sleep contributes to better overall health and wellbeing. It is especially important for older adults to get enough rest to keep the immune system strong to fight against disease and illness.
However, some seniors experience chronic sleep issues and are just not able to get enough quality sleep on a regular basis. This can happen for a variety of reasons, and in many cases the individual is really not sure what the underlying sources might be.
Studies show that around half of adults between the age of 65 and 80 have trouble falling and staying asleep. Half of these people again, report not knowing the direct cause of their sleep issues. This may be because of the popular belief that inconsistent sleep is just a natural part of aging.
This does not have to be the case. People over 65 have just as much capacity for quality sleep as anyone else. The first step is acknowledging the issue, and then devising a practical plan to correct the issue. Home caregivers are able to assist with relevant strategies and implementing effective routines to improve sleep patterns.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
As we get older, the tendency is for sleep patterns to shift and fluctuate. Many older adults report having more difficulty falling asleep, and waking up several times throughout the course of the night.
Although it may take a longer time to accomplish, total sleep time is often very similar with age. For example, it may take lying in bed for 9 hours to get 7 hours of sleep. The transition from sleeping to waking is generally more abrupt, making it seem like they are no longer as sound a sleeper as they used to be.
Less time during the night spent in deep sleep means waking more frequently throughout the night and not feeling as rested in the morning. Seniors may also wake more during the night due to the frequent need for urination, anxiety, effects of medications, and the inability to get comfortable due to chronic pain and existing health conditions.
Impact of Sleep Pattern Changes
These changes in sleep patterns can have an assortment of unfavorable effects on the individual. These altered sleep patterns can manifest into larger issues for some older adults, and can lead to:
- Restless legs syndrome
- Sleep apnea
Insomnia is one of the most prevalent sleep issues that seniors face, and is characterized by the inability to fall asleep easily and stay asleep once it finally comes. This can have a major impact on cognitive function during waking hours. Roughly ¼ of older adults struggle with insomnia.
There is not necessarily once standardized method to manage the effects of insomnia. One approach is to keep a sleep journal, making detailed notes of sleep patterns and problems. This can help get to the route of the issue.
Trying to solve the problem with medications or alcohol is heavily discouraged as these just tend to make the issue worse. Often, making healthy lifestyle changes can be advantageous.
Restless Legs Syndrome
This is a sleep condition that involves feelings of itching, crawling skin, or restlessness when trying to get to sleep. While these symptoms can be extremely irritating, they are not typically physically painful.
It is not very well understood what causes this syndrome, and what the scientific basis of these sensations might be.
This condition has been associated with low iron levels, so that is one area to explore if experiencing these symptoms. It is recommended to consult a physician if the issue becomes unmanageable.
This condition is characterized by feeling excessively tired during the day. This can occur even after a good night’s sleep. In most cases, however, it is the result of insufficient sleep at night, and possibly even an effect of another sleep condition like insomnia or sleep apnea.
One option for treating hypersomnia is to take stimulants to stay awake during the day. This is not recommended though because it can lead to addictions and other health concerns.
Lifestyle changes are often the best approach, focusing on a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and regular social activity.
Sleep Apnea is a common sleep condition that is often associated with a range of health issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and heart problems.
Individuals with sleep apnea experience blockages or interruptions in their breathing patterns during the night.
Many people with sleep apnea opt for a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device that goes over the nose and mouth to facilitate steady breathing patterns.
Weight loss is also an effective treatment measure for obese individuals. Other lifestyle changes like a nutritious diet, regular physical activity, and social interaction may also be helpful.