How to Get the Best Night’s Sleep

sleep disorders in the elderlySleep is one of the most essential elements influencing our overall health and well-being. Getting a good night’s sleep keeps us alert, refreshed and ready to face the day ahead. For adults age 65 and older, 7-8 hours of sleep per night is the recommended amount needed to function properly. However, since changes in our sleep patterns as we age are a normal part of the aging process, some seniors find it difficult to get the proper amount of sleep they need.

Common Sleep Disorders in the Elderly

While problems sleeping can be common in seniors, the need for a good night’s sleep remains vital; it’s a myth that as we age we don’t need as much sleep as we used to! There are a few sleep disorders and problems that are more prevalent in the elderly, such as:

  • Elderly insomnia: The National Sleep Foundation reports that 44 percent of older adults experience either chronic or acute insomnia, usually related to some sort of medical or psychiatric condition.
  • Advanced sleep phase syndrome: Changes in our circadian rhythms affect the coordination of our bodily functions, including sleep. It’s normal for older adults to feel more tired in the early evening and wake up earlier in the morning compared to their younger counterparts. They might still be getting the 7-8 hours of sleep needed, but going to bed and waking up very early.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a serious condition associated with high blood pressure and other health problems. When a person has sleep apnea, he or she will actually stop breathing for as long as 10-60 seconds, causing a sharp drop in the amount of oxygen in the blood. This causes the sufferer to wake up briefly to begin breathing normally again, and it can happen several times throughout the night.
  • Restless legs syndrome: RLS causes discomfort and a tingling sensation in the legs, usually in the evenings, which gets worse as the night progresses. A strong urge to get up and walk around can follow, interrupting one’s sleep.
  • REM-behavior disorder: This is a rare condition, but a serious one as it causes the sufferer to move or thrash about during sleep.

In general, elderly sleep problems also tend to occur as seniors have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. Seniors usually spend more time in the lighter stage of the REM sleep cycle than in deep sleep. Plus, certain medication side effects might make one drowsy during the day or more alert at bedtime, disrupting sleep patterns.

How to Sleep Better and More Soundly as You Age

The key to a good night’s sleep is creating better sleep habits overall. First, discuss your situation with you doctor, who may perform a medical examination to make sure there isn’t an underlying health condition for your sleeplessness. Medication is sometimes prescribed, but it rarely seems to help for the long term. Instead, focus on changing the following habits:

  • Create a schedule for sleeping in which you go to bed around the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping, not napping or lounging.
  • Wind down in the evening with quiet activities like reading, doing crossword puzzles or taking a warm bath.
  • Avoid large, heavy meals in the evening as well as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
  • Keep the bedroom cool, comfortable and dimly light at night.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Limit daytime napping, especially in the afternoon.

Remember, the better sleep you get, the better and healthier you’ll feel.

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