Healthy Sleep Habits for Older Adults

Written by eHealth Navigator

Many things in life improve with age, but unfortunately sleep quality is not one of them. The Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management reports that 40 percent of people 65 or older experience sleep problems. Older adults often feel less rested because they wake more frequently at night and experience less deep sleep than younger adults. Typically older people experience higher rates of physical ailments that negatively affect sleep. Arthritis, congestive heart failure, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and prostate enlargement (which leads to frequent nighttime bathroom trips) can all cut into sleep quality.

Theses sleep interruptions are more than a mere inconvenience; age-related shifts in sleep patterns affect the brain’s ability to store memories, leading to forgetfulness. According to new research from scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, changes in the brain’s middle frontal lobe result in less time spent in deep, restorative slow-wave sleep. As slow-wave sleep dwindles, memory suffers, because memories are processed during this stage of slumber. The Berkley study found that the quality of deep sleep of adults in their 70s was 75 percent lower than that of adults in their 20s; the older adults scored 55 percent lower than younger adults on memory tests.

You may wonder can older adults halt the decline in sleep quality. Absolutely, improved sleep habits can result in better-quality sleep for seniors immediately.

It’s a common misconception that humans require less sleep as they age. This false assumption leads many adults to shortchange their sleep requirements in their later years. Adults generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, regardless of age. Age-related brain changes and certain sleep disorders may result in a dwindling drive to sleep in older adults. See your doctor if you sleep less now than you did a few years or decades ago.

Adults over 65 years of age who live at home take an average of 8 to 9 medications each day, according to the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. Some of these medications come with an unintended side effect of sleep problems. Commonly prescribed antidepressants can contribute to insomnia in some patients. Prescription and over-the-counter sleep aides such as Ambien and Tylenol PM can leave lingering daytime grogginess that throws off sleep patterns, and can worsen restless legs syndrome, a condition experienced by up to 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Institutes of Health.

For better sleep always ask your doctor or pharmacist about sleep-related side effects for any new prescription, take medications during the morning hours that make you fill more energized and talk to your physician about alternatives to problematic pills.

Naps for adults are now fashionable; new research from England’s Surrey University encourages older adults to reenergize with an afternoon nap. However, long late-afternoon naps can disrupt sleep patterns and exacerbate sleep problems in older adults. Napping reduces levels of a neurochemical in the brain that builds our drive to sleep at night. Long naps interrupt this process, so people do not feel sleepy at night. For better napping, set an alarm for 30 to 40 minutes and avoid naps after 4pm. For most adults exposure to bright morning light helps support healthy sleep patterns. But those suffering from advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS), a sleep disorder more commonly seen in older adults, need a different plan. People with this condition feel sleepy in the early evening, around 6p.m. or 7p.m., and find they are wide awake around 4a.m., which negatively affects their social life and relationships.

For better sleep, adults with ASPS should seek out bright light in the evening. This temporarily pauses the brain’s production of “sleepy” neurotransmitter melatonin and helps stave off sleep for a few hours. Further, seniors should uncover the root cause of their sleep difficulties instead of automatically reaching for sleeping pills, which can cause dizziness and drug interactions, as well as increase the risk of falls in older patients. Getting to the underlying cause of the sleep problem, whether it is a health condition or another medicine that you are taking is always the safest approach.

Learn more about sleep issues by visiting the sleeep center, watching this sleep video, as well as prepare for a conversation with your doctor.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 3 May 2016 12:12PM