Are Sleep Problems Normal As We Get Older? Causes & Prevention

As you get older it is not uncommon to experience problems in your normal sleep pattern. Often older people find it difficult to fall asleep easily or stay asleep for long period of time as compared to when they were young. According to experts some amount of sleep changes as we age is normal. As we grow older several bodily changes occur. Similarly there is decline in sleep. This usually begins after the age of 50 or 60.

With growing age brain start to produce less amount of melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating sleep pattern.

This is why some adults experience fragmented sleep or wake up many times during night. Aside from the natural changes of old age there are several other causes that may cause sleep problems in elderly age group.

What Causes Sleep Problems In Elderly?

Here are common causes of sleep related problems as we get older:

  • Having poor sleeping habits is often blamed as the cause for problems especially in older adults. Irregularity in sleeping hours, drinking alcohol before sleeping, or sleeping in bright lighted room.
  • Fragmented sleep or waking frequently to urinate may disturb the normal sleep.
    This is common in older people because of two reasons. Patients suffering from diabetes tend to urinate more at night. Secondly older male with prostate enlargement may have to wake up frequently at night to urinate. This may cause interruption in normal sleep.
  • There are several other medical conditions that may cause sleep interruption such as gastroesophageal reflux, asthma, depression and anxiety Alzemer’s disease and pain in joints due to osteoarthritis. All these conditions can make a person to wake up frequently at night causing disturbance in sound sleep.
  • Elderly women between 40 and 50 years often suffer from hot flashes as they are in middle of their menopausal phase. Sudden hot flashes disturb a woman’s sleep.
  • Restless leg syndrome is weird sensation of something crawling underneath the skin. It is more common in elderly individuals. This unpleasant symptom may cause difficulty in sleeping.
  • Usually elderly individuals live more sedentary life. Lack of exercise can make a person less sleepy.
  • Snoring and sleep apnea are commonly associated as you age. In obstructive sleep apnea there is frequent pause in breathing. This may prevent deep sleep. Sleep apnea is a serious illness that needs medical attention.
  • Reduced exposure to sunlight may affect secretion of melatonin, a hormone necessary for inducing sound sleep. It also control sleep wake cycle. If a person is less exposed to sunlight especially elderly who prefer to stay in house all the time may have imbalance of this hormone resulting in sleep problems.
  • Elders take more medications as they often suffer from several medical problems. The combined effect or side effect of certain drugs can cause impairment in their sleep.

How To Prevent Sleep Problems In Old Age?

Whether you are young or old, good sleep is essential for overall well being of a person. It may not be necessary that an elderly person may need to sleep for 7 to 8 hours. But the quality of sleep is more important. Even though the number of hours he sleeps is less than normally needed, if it’s not affecting his daytime activities or if there is no disturbance in his sleep at night than there is no need to worry about. However, if there are frequent breaks and disruptions or if the old person is experiencing difficulty in falling asleep regularly, then he needs to consult his doctor.

Few bed time tips can improve his sleep. He should avoid drinking coffee and tea at bedtime as both contain caffeine which acts as a stimulant. Person should also avoid drinking alcohol before bedtime. Instead drink warm milk as milk contains melatonin, the hormone which regulates sleep and wake cycle. If you are suffering from prostate problems, you should minimize intake of fluids before one to two hours before going to bed.

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