Sleep Better As You Age

It’s a misconception that older people need to sleep during the day. In fact, as you get older, sleeping requirements hardly change since the formative years – the ‘good old days’.

Older person asleep on the couch

There is a common picture in younger people’s minds of grandma falling off to sleep in the corner after lunch or of granddad’s head lolling from side to side, the newspaper around his ankles, being poked and prodded by the toddlers. It begs the question of whether you need more sleep as you age.

Changes in patterns of sleep as you age.
These are in part physiological as well as indirect changes that may have been brought about as a result of lifestyle factors.

The intensity of our sleep as we grow older is lessened, so men in particular experience less slow wave and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep or basically sleep less soundly.

Hormonal Changes.
This less intense sleep is caused by the decrease in production of growth hormones, sex hormones and melatonin. Most unusually, as we age there is an increase of cortisol in the blood.

Very high levels of serum cortisol are very toxic to the brain and other organs and have an impact on our immune system. High levels of this hormone seems to be associated with the reduction in REM sleep as we age but, as it is with the complexity of our bodies, it is important that we get good uninterrupted 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night as well as avoiding stress situations to control cortisol levels.sleeping techniques

Daytime Fatigue.
It’s thought that this lighter sleeping at night is because of a reduced urge to sleep which can lead to a higher urge to nap during the day.
Studies have shown however, that elderly people into their 80s who have a relatively clean bill of health don’t necessarily show any need or feel like taking daytime naps.

So if your eyes keep zoning out whilst reading the newspaper, don’t let anyone tell you and don’t assume it’s due to old age. Your strength, endurance and organ function may have been declining since around the age of 30, but if you are generally healthy and sleep well at night, there is no reason why you should be feeling excessively tired during the day.

Other Factors.
There are many other factors existing or developed over the years that cause sleep disruption and insomnia in later life.

As we age our desires for getting out and about can diminish which means that the stimulation of physical exercise is lacking. Additionally staying indoors more means less exposure to natural light.
Studies have shown that older people with sleeping problems have less exposure to light, have a poor diet and have limited physical and mental stimulation.

It seems that the cirdanian rhythm changes as you get older, which means a tendency to feel sleepy earlier in the evening, therefore going to bed early, and waking up earlier. It’s not understood why this happens but there is nothing wrong with it unless, of course, you are getting up so early and it affects your day time functioning. An extreme case is known as advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS).

Prescription Drugs.
Doctors can be pretty free with prescribing drugs and you may have accumulated quite an arsenal of prescription drugs over the years. You should get clarity from your health professional on your medications and what affect they will have on your sleep.

Here is a list of the more common prescribed drugs and what affects they could have.

  • Beta blockers – Supresses REM sleep
  • Benzodiazepines – Less slow wave sleep (deep sleep); can cause daytime sleepiness and memory and mood impairment
  • Fluoxetine – Affects REM sleep and can cause insomnia
  • Phenytoin – Suppresses REM sleep
  • Pseudoephedrine – Can cause insomnia
  • Salbutamol – Can cause insomnia; improves sleep if asthma is controlled
  • Steroids – Can cause insomnia and sleep disruption
  • Theophylline – Increases light sleep; can result in sleep disturbances
  • Simvastatin – Can cause insomnia

Sleep Disruptions.
Getting up in the night to go to the bathroom gets more and more frequent causing sleep disruptions.
As you get older, like the rest of the body, the muscles controlling your bladder weakens and becomes less likely to retain as much urine as it used to.

For men who get up frequently in the night and have “stream” problems they should get their prostrate checked.

Don’t be worried about discussing these problems with your medical professionals or even an urologist.

Cut down on the fluids before bed time. Try to take diuretic medication as early in the day as possible. With a primary bladder problem get comfortable incontinence pads.

State of Mind.
Just because you’re no longer running marathons doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be feeling overly tired during the day and therefore unable to keep your eyes open. There may well be an underlying cause for not sleeping well at night.

Make sure you get exercise appropriate for your age. This in itself will give your more interest in your diet, which should be well balanced. It’s also important to stay mentally active and don’t forget to relax in the garden to soak in some natural light (take the normal sun screen precautions of course).

So sleep as you age is as important as it always was and to get a good night’s sleep consistently will mean feeling so much better in general health terms although don’t worry about the odd nap during the day.

But don’t try to sleep; if you suffer from insomnia, look at lifestyle factors that you can easily adjust or look to adopt some specific sleeping techniques.