It is often said that seniors need much less sleep than younger people and many seniors make this claim as well. The problem is, while they claim that they don’t need a lot of sleep and get just 5 to 6 hours a night, they follow this with regular naps the next day and can’t make it through their favorite TV program without drifting off.
Your needs don’t change as you age, and generally speaking, a senior needs the same 7 to 8 hours as a younger person.
Why Seniors Have Trouble with Sleep
Close to half of all seniors report regular problems with sleep, which is higher than any other age group. It’s not because they’re refusing to get their allotted 7 to 8 hours, but because they can’t.
Seniors face numerous problems that interfere with their ability to sleep soundly, including:
Prostate problems are incredibly common in males over the age of 65. These problems can lead to multiple toilet trips throughout the night, leaving them exhausted by the time their alarm finally sounds.
Sleep isn’t something that tallies over time. If you sleep for 3 hours, wake for 30 minutes, and then sleep for another 3 hours, it’s not the same as getting 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Your body goes through multiple different cycles, and all of these affect the mind and the body differently.
If those cycles are constantly uninterrupted, you may feel exhausted even if you slept for 6+ hours in total.
Arthritis, back pain, and countless other ailments can make sleeping a chore. These range from serious joint and muscle problems to restless legs syndrome. All these conditions will impact your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Your body undergoes a serious of hormonal changes before you sleep and before you wake. At night, when the sun goes down, your brain produces a hormone known as melatonin, and this ensures you’re tired and ready to sleep.
As you age, it becomes less effective at producing these hormones and you become more reliant on help from chemicals.
Seniors are considerably more likely to take multiple different medications. These medications may be prescribed for mental and physical ailments, and they may produce a number of side effects, many of which can impact their quality of sleep.
- Increased Urination: Common with diuretics and a host of other medications, these drugs may lead to multiple nighttime toilet trips, interrupting sleep each time.
- Insomnia: A side effect of many anti-depressant drugs, insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Sedation: Drugs that trigger daytime sedation can lead to frequent daytime naps, which means you won’t be tired when nighttime rolls around.
- Restless Legs Syndrome: Triggered by many antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs, RLS causes an uncomfortable feeling in the legs, making you feel like you want to move or run, even though you don’t have the energy for it.
The mind and body become more sensitive to external triggers as we age. You may find that you get unbearably hot or cold at nighttime, and that as soon as you remedy the issue, you go the other way. Certain noises and lights may annoy you more than they used to, as well.
While it is important to establish a routine, making sure you go to bed at a similar time each night, the same doesn’t apply for waking up the next morning. Just because you woke at 6 AM every morning for 30 years, doesn’t mean you need to continue doing it now, especially if you don’t have a job to go to or chores to complete.
If you have a long night, are sporadically interrupted throughout, and only eventually fall asleep at 3 AM, the last thing you want is to hear the alarm 3 hours later.
One of the great joys about being a senior is that you don’t have a job to go to or early morning responsibilities to attend. Most seniors wake whenever they want, and if you’re lucky enough to be one of them, it’s time to turn off that alarm.
Problems with Senior Sleep Deprivation
Many seniors dismiss insomnia and sleep deprivation as a mild irritation. They get used to it and to the chronic feelings of fatigue they feel throughout the day. Sleep deprivation can cause a host of problems, though, and some of them may not be obvious at first:
- Compromised immune system
- Increased risk of heart problems and diabetes
- Aches, pains, and muscle weakness
- Memory loss
- Mood swings
- Inability to focus
How to Sleep Well as a Senior
If you’re struggling to maintain a regular sleep schedule, speak with your doctor and see if there is an underlying cause they can help with. You can also try the following tips:
- Don’t Eat Before Bed: Eating a large meal will increase your body temperature and could make you uncomfortable as your body processes the food. Avoid eating several hours before bed and don’t drink tea, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages in this period.
- Bathe: While bathing increases your body temperature, that temperature drops as soon as you step out of the bath. Once you slip into bed, you’ll be cozy and ready for a full night’s sleep.
- Turn Off Your Devices: Insomnia is becoming increasingly common in all age groups, and it’s because we’re constantly distracted by the blue light coming from phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. Turn off your devices at least an hour before going to bed and resist the temptation to reach for your phone when you’re struggling to sleep.
- Read: While reading Facebook messages and Twitter feeds won’t help you sleep, the opposite is true for books. There’s no glaring light, no buzzing and beeping, and no distractions. It’ll tire your eyes and your mind, preparing you for sleep.
- Drink Herbal Tea: A cup of chamomile with a sprinkle of lavender may relax you, but you should avoid strong herbal remedies and supplements, as they may interfere with preexisting conditions and medications.