Aging Changes in Sleep: Techniques for a Great Night’s Rest

As we age, many changes occur. Some of the changes are welcomed – retirement, more time with grandkids, or being able to focus on hobbies we didn’t previously have time for. Other changes that come with age are less desirable and can be sources of frustration. One big issue is the change in sleeping patterns, such as trouble falling asleep at night or extreme drowsiness well before typical bedtime. There are many factors that can contribute to this common occurrence.

Common reasons for age related sleep changes are:

  • Lack of exercise: After retirement, chances are good you’re not moving as much as you used to. The implications of this can impact people very differently. For instance, a sharp decrease in physical activity can trigger both insomnia and/or excessive sleepiness, according to Helpguide.org. Burning calories and expending energy promotes sleep, and the release of endorphins generates energy.
  • Medications and medical problems: Medications are well known to affect people very differently. Some medicines that promote sleep can actually produce the opposite effect, causing insomnia, while others can induce daytime drowsiness. Painful conditions, such as arthritis, can make falling and staying asleep nearly impossible, resulting in chronic drowsiness during waking hours.
  • Stress: While the golden years open up a lot of wonderful opportunities for many, stress is also often associated with this life stage. Worry and grief can be sleep disruptors, and depression can create feelings of lethargy and lead to disproportionate daytime sleeping.
  • Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) are notorious interrupters of sleep. Individuals with sleep apnea wake up many times in the night without realizing it, leading to poor sleep quality and daytime exhaustion. The frustrating and constant sensations of RLS and PLMD can prevent you from falling asleep easily and sleeping through the night.
  • Poor sleep hygiene: While hygiene is normally associated with overall cleanliness, sleep hygiene refers to best practices in creating an environment and bedtime routine conducive to sleep. Watching TV, using a tablet, computer, or smartphone until the moment you go to sleep, drinking alcohol and sleeping during irregular hours can all create sleep related problems.

Now that you know some of the most common causes of age related sleep disturbances, how can you get a handle on the situation? Familydoctor.org offers a number of recommendations, including:

  • When possible, maintain regular sleeping and waking times every day.
  • Avoid daytime naps that last longer than 20 minutes. While the extra sleep from a longer nap feels good, it can cause issues with falling asleep during regular sleep hours.
  • Condition your mind to only associate sleep with being in bed. Watching TV or reading in bed can inadvertently condition you to remain awake when it’s time to use your bed for sleep.
  • Make coffee a morning or early afternoon drink, just don’t consume caffeine within 8 hours of your bedtime.
  • Alcohol consumption before bed may help you fall asleep, but it won’t help you stay asleep. In fact, according to the experts at sleep.org, it most negatively impacts REM sleep, the stage of sleep that helps boost memory, concentration, and learning.
  • If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, make your way to a quiet room and do something soothing like reading a book or listening to some calming music.
  • In the hour leading up to sleep, avoid TV, computer, tablet, and smartphone screens. The light they emit has a negative effect on the levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and has been shown to be a brain stimulant. For more information read Blue Light Has a Dark Side, an article written for Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications.
  • Talk to your doctor about pain management issues, any medications you are taking that may be impacting your sleep, as well as the effects of sleep disorders.
  • Exercise to boost endorphins and burn extra energy. Even walking the trails at Edgeworth Park for just 15 minutes a day can make a marked difference.

By following these tips you can improve your nighttime sleep habits and feel more awake and refreshed throughout the day. Scheduling a sleep study is a smart idea if you’ve attempted to make changes regarding your sleep with no success.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for every age group. For seniors, like the residents of Edgeworth Park at New Town Assisted Living and Memory Care, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, getting optimal sleep aids in overall physical wellness, leading to a better quality of life. Our dedicated staff understands how to care for aging adults and assist and encourage residents by promoting best practices when it comes to sleep, nutrition, fitness and wellness in general. For more information about our programs and the services offered at Edgeworth Park, contact us, or call today at 866-568-9206.