Understanding Why Sleep Patterns Change as People Age

If you’ve noticed changes in your sleep patterns, age may have something to do with it.

There’s little that feels better than getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep is an essential part of good health, and when we experience disturbances with our slumber it can lead to health issues if not addressed. As a person ages, they become more at risk for a number of health issues, including sleep disturbances. It is not uncommon for older adults to have changes in their sleep patterns. Both the quality and quantity of sleep can be affected by age. 

What does age have to do with sleep? According to the Sleep Foundation, changes in hormone production, particularly melatonin and cortisol, play a role in sleep disturbances in seniors. Melatonin is a hormone that the brain produces in response to darkness. It signals the body that it is time to sleep. As a person ages, the body releases less melatonin. Without this signal, the body’s circadian rhythm can be thrown off balance. In addition to lack of melatonin, there are health issues and lifestyle choices that can lead to sleep disturbances as well.

Health Issues That Affect Sleep

Depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and even arthritis are all common conditions that can affect a person’s quality and duration of sleep. And the more health conditions a person has, the more sleep may be impacted. According to the CDC, around 85% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and approximately 60% have two or more. People with multiple health conditions report getting less than six hours of sleep, having poor quality sleep, and experiencing symptoms of a sleep disorder.

On top of chronic illnesses, the medications used to manage these conditions may also disrupt sleep. More than half of seniors take 4 or more medications to manage health issues, and many prescription and over-the-counter medications can contribute to sleep problems. Antihistamines and opiates, for instance, can cause drowsiness during the day which can lead to poor sleep at night. If a senior loved one takes multiple medications and is experiencing sleep problems, discuss with his or her doctor whether any medications may be part of the issue.

Other Conditions That May Affect Senior Sleep Patterns 

While aging affects everyone differently, there are a few common sleep issues that experts have noted among seniors, including:

  • Napping during the day. Many older adults nap during the day, and while a short nap can be beneficial, longer naps or napping late in the day can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • Nighttime bathroom use. The need to go to the bathroom at night can disrupt sleep and make it harder to fall back to sleep.
  • Pain. Arthritis pain and other discomforts can make it hard to rest comfortably at night.
  • Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes pauses in breathing while a person sleeps. This causes poor sleep and can affect oxygen levels in the body, leading to headaches, daytime sleepiness, and confusion.
  • Restless leg syndrome. This condition causes an urge to move the legs while resting, making it hard to fall asleep.

Sleep Tips for Older Adults

  • Exercise. Getting plenty of exercise helps to relax the body and make you feel more tired. Those who exercise regularly tend to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and have better quality sleep.
  • Create a calming nighttime routine. A warm bath, a good book, or calming music can help create a relaxing atmosphere that will better prepare you for sleep.
  • Reduce distractions. In today’s technological world, distractions are everywhere. Remove nighttime distractions by leaving phones and devices in another room, avoid watching television in bed, and cover any lights in the room that may disrupt sleep.
  • Talk to your doctor. If you or a loved one is experiencing poor sleep, discuss it with your healthcare provider. They can help you develop a plan for better sleep. 

You can also partner with a professional home care provider like Visiting Care Giving Services, a dedicated provider of home care in O’Fallon, MO and surrounding areas. Our in-home care services can help seniors stay active during the day with friendly companionship, exercise, accompaniment to outings, and more that can help them feel more relaxed and restful in the evenings. We can also create a safe and calming atmosphere in the home that promotes better sleep.

Contact us today online or at (636) 493-9058 to learn more about our home care in O’Fallon, MO and throughout the surrounding areas.