Aging Well – Sleep For Seniors, Putting The Myths To Bed

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
By Mr. Noah Kaminer, Administrator

The members of our community are zoche to living substantially longer than previous generations. But living longer isn’t enough. What we really want is to live longer and better, staying physically, mentally and spiritually healthy in order to enjoy doing things we truly love. While having good genes certainly helps, there are many things a senior can do to help live a longer, healthier and more productive life as they age. It’s never too early, nor too late to make small lifestyle changes that can have a significant impact on life as you age. The next series of articles in the Senior Circle will explore some key topics and tips for aging well and living life fully.

Contrary to popular belief, seniors need the same amount of sleep as younger adults, about seven to nine hours per night.  Sleep is just as important to physical and emotional health in senior years as in younger years.  A solid night’s sleep helps concentration and memory, allows the body to repair any cell damage occurring during the day, and refreshes the body’s immune system, preventing disease.  Adults who suffer from insufficient sleep are more likely to suffer from depression, attention and memory problems, and excessive daytime sleepiness. In older adults, insufficient sleep can lead to more serious health problems, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems, and breast cancer.  Therefore, it is crucial for the senior’s well being to get sufficient, restful sleep.

Unfortunately, it is harder for seniors to get the sleep they need.   Older adults wake up more often at night, primarily to use the bathroom.  In addition, they may have a sleep disorder (insomnia or sleep apnea) or may suffer from restless leg syndrome causing intense discomfort in the legs during sleep.  Other factors that can disrupt seniors’ sleep include arthritis, respiratory illness, heart disease, post menopause, anxiety and stress. Some prescription medicines seniors take to treat these conditions also steal sleep.   Nevertheless, the biggest myth is that sleeping poorly at night is just part of getting old.  Seniors fall asleep during the day primarily because they aren’t getting enough quality sleep at night.

While a senior’s need for sleep doesn’t change with age, their sleep patterns do. The body’s circadian rhythms, the biological clock that controls sleep, naturally advances a few hours as a person grows older. When that happens, older people may feel sleepier earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.  If they don’t adjust their bedtimes to these changes, they may have difficulty falling and staying asleep.  By observing their sleep patterns and making certain lifestyle changes, seniors can help keep their internal clocks on time and avoid sleep deprivation.

  1. Improve Daytime Habits – What a person does during the day is critical to the night’s sleep. Staying active, tackling intellectual tasks and exercising regularly are at the top of the list to combat sleeplessness. Exposure to bright sunlight increases melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycles. Getting at least two hours of natural sunlight a day will help the senior sleep better at night.
  2. Watch Food Consumption – Consuming foods and drinks that contain caffeine –coffee, tea, chocolate and sodas – in the evening can interfere with nighttime sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed makes it harder to sleep as well, as does smoking.  Try to limit all drinks after dinner.
  3. Make the Bedroom Sleep Friendly – A good sleep environment is one that is quiet, dark and cool.  A comfortable mattress that offers appropriate support is also crucial to sleeping well. Use the bedroom for sleeping only, to allow the brain to associate the bed with sleeping.
  4. Maintain a Solid Sleep Schedule – Stabilize the body’s circadian rhythm by sticking to a regular sleep schedule.  Get up and go to bed at the same time each day.  Go to sleep when tired at night, even if it’s earlier than normal.  Limit naps to less than 45 minutes and keep them as early in the afternoon as possible.

There are many misconceptions about seniors and sleep.  Learning the facts and following the above tips can get seniors out of the dark and into their beds for a restful, healthy and necessary solid sleep.