We’ve just passed the end of Daylight Savings Time and gained an extra hour over the weekend. All around the U.S., a collective sigh of people getting an additional hour of sleep was heard! A contented, grateful sigh.
Sleep is critical to our brain, our organs, our physical health and our mental wellbeing. And many of us do not get enough of it on a regular basis. Let’s take a look at some common challenges in people over the age of 65 and what might be some tips and possible solutions.
Why is a regular amount of sleep critical?
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.
The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.
The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.”
- The healing process of your body (heart and blood vessels) and your brain
- The hormones that control feeling hungry or full
- You immune system and how you fight off disease and illness
- How your body reacts to insulin (potentially increasing a risk of diabetes, if continually sleep deprived)
- Focus and performance in physical and intellectual activities
What are the most common sleep challenges in older adults?
As we age, it’s common for our sleep patterns to change. We all have or had that one older relative who was up at the crack of dawn and in bed by 8:00pm. And when we were younger, we’ve all seen an older adult fall asleep while playing cards or in church. So what are the common challenges that we ourselves face as we age?
Waking up at night
Due to medications, liquid intake or a number of other possibilities, we seem to wake up more at night. It could be for trips to the bathroom, but studies also show that as we age, we spend more time during the night in a lighter level of slumber.
With less time spent in deep stages of sleep, we wake up more often throughout the night. Depending on the reason and how awake we actually become, we may not be able to drift off again quickly.
Our circadian rhythm shifts
Research has shown that in advanced years, our circadian rhythm actually also “advances”, which means that it shifts forward in time. This might present when you find yourself getting more tired in the afternoon and could also account for waking up earlier in the morning.
The myth that “older people need less sleep” is likely a product of this rhythm shift. Remember that relative who gets up early and goes to bed at 8pm? That is a terrific example of this kind of “phase advance”. Older adults need the same amount of sleep as grown and middle aged adults, roughly 6-8 hours a night, on a consistent basis.
Maybe because we have started to experience a circadian rhythm shift already or because it just feels nice and we have the time, many of us take afternoon naps. While short cat naps can be very beneficial for health, napping for hours or later in the afternoon can lead to not sleeping well during the night.
As you can see, our sleep habits and our natural body’s rhythms are intertwined. So what can we do to sleep better as we age?
Tips and tricks to get a better and more consistent sleep
- Limit your daytime naps, both in length and in how late in the day they occur.
- Do not use any technology (cell phones, Kindles, tablets) right before bedtime. The blue light makes your brain more active and can actually make you more awake.
- Only use your bedroom for slumber and for sex. By not doing anything else in bed, your brain will associate it only with those two activities.
- Put clocks away. Seeing the time, especially in the middle of the night can cause anxiety which won’t help you relax.
- If there is noise in your environment (such as snoring), use earplugs.
- Speak with your doctor about increasing your melatonin levels.
- Speak with your doctor about any medications you might be taking that can cause insomnia.
- Keep a regular bedtime schedule and routine. Going to bed at the same time, preceded by the same activities (bath, reading, etc.) will help condition your brain for relaxation.
It’s obvious that resting and getting the right amount of sleep is important. Implementing some of the above tips may help. If you feel that you aren’t sleeping well on a regular basis or if you have any questions or concerns with your rest habits, please speak first with your doctor.
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Do you have questions about how you can better support your loved one while they age in place in South Florida or regarding homecare in general? Please contact CareGivers of America here: Contact or call us toll free: 800-342-4197
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