Aging Changes in Sleep
Changes in sleep patterns can occur with normal aging. The number of hours of sleep needed remains the same. But many older individuals experience insomnia. This is the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
What is the information for this topic?
There are several changes in sleeping habits that are commonly seen as people age, including:
a decreased amount of "deep" sleep and an increased amount of "light" sleep
having a harder time falling asleep
less time spent dreaming
more frequent napping during the day
a sense of frustration with sleep pattern changes
spending more time in bed but possibly sleeping less
waking up more easily and more often during the night
Research suggests that certain factors within the body and the environment might make it difficult to fall asleep. As a person ages, he or she secretes smaller amounts of certain substances related to the sleep/wake cycle. These include growth hormone and melatonin, a chemical that promotes sleep. Many older people may also experience some or all of these changes:
changes in the foods eaten and the way they are digested
decreased ability to regulate body temperature
decreased exposure to sunlight
decreased mental stimulation
a more sedentary lifestyle
Other factors that may contribute to sleep difficulties include:
drinking or eating caffeine
smoking or using nicotine products to quit smoking
taking certain medicines, including some used for high blood pressure or depression
traveling, or having jet lag
Other factors can also interfere with sleep but are not considered a part of normal aging. Many older people need to get up and use the bathroom during the night because of medical conditions. Men with benign prostatic hyperplasia, or an enlarged prostate, and people with diabetes may need to urinate at night. A variety of chronic diseases and conditions may cause anxiety, pain, or other problems that lead to insomnia.
It is important that a person develop good sleep habits. These include:
avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and illegal drugs
avoiding daytime naps or taking no more than one nap per day, which should be less than 1 hour long
being in sunlight for a short period each day
not going to bed unless tired
using the bed only for sleeping and sex
waking up at a similar time each day
If a person is still having sleep problems after trying these steps, he or she should talk to a healthcare provider. Prescription sleep medicines, such as zolpidem and zaleplon, may be helpful. These medicines are designed to be used for a very short period of time. If used for more than 1 or 2 weeks, some of these medicines can cause addiction and worsening sleep problems. These medicines may also have dangerous side effects such as confusion, hallucinations, and an increased chance of falls.
Too little sleep can cause confusion, trouble concentrating, decreased energy, and other mental changes. Sleepiness may also lead to accidents, such as falling asleep while driving a car. Pain associated with illness may appear to be worse when a person is tired. These problems can be treated, and symptoms will often go away when the person gets enough sleep.