Fortunately, I’ve always been what my mom called a “good sleeper.” But lots of my friends and lots of our clients are not so lucky. Many suffer from the lack of a good night’s sleep.
According to Eran Metzger, M.D., over half the elderly suffer from difficulty sleeping. “More than 50 percent of people over the age of 65 who live in the community and nearly two-thirds of seniors living in an institutional setting (such as assisted living) are affected by sleep disturbances.”
What Causes Sleep Problems?
The causes of sleep problems are many and varied, says Jack Gardner, MD, a neurologist certified in sleep medicine at the Sleep Center at Baylor Medical Center in Waxahachie, Texas.
“Insomnia is more common for seniors, partly because of health issues, partly because of the anxiety and the concerns of aging, and sometimes because of medication,” says Dr. Gaardner. “The likelihood of sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome also increases with age. and arthritis pain are also common and rob sleep from seniors.”
Another factor is that older sleepers tend to get sleepy and go to bed earlier as well as wake up earlier than they once did. Called “advanced sleep phase syndrome,” it can play havoc with seniors sleep, especially if they still stay up late.
The bottomline, suggests Gardner, is take sleep disorders seriously. “See your doctor if you’re not getting restful sleep at night and are unable to wake up refreshed,” Gardner says. “Healthy sleep is something one should expect at all ages.”
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
When I don’t get enough sleep I’m grumpy and not as tack-sharp as I would like to be. For seniors, not enough sleep also affects their medical and physical well-being. It’s no surprise that National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reports that people aged 65 – 84 have four or more medical conditions have more sleep problems than others.
Some of the dangers of sleep deprivation include:
• Insomnia – daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating
• Snoring/Sleep Apnea – at risk for headaches, memory loss, depression and cardiovascular disease
• Other causes – gastro esophageal reflux and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (REM), Restless Leg Syndrome
How to Avoid Sleep Disturbances in the Elderly
I understand that it is common and acceptable for a healthy 70-year-old to wake up four times during the night without it being due to disease.
Here are a few tips from the National Institute of Health’s website on how to get a good night’s sleep:
• Avoid large meals shortly before bedtime.
• Avoid stimulants such as caffeine.
• Get regular exercise early in the day.
• Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. (Don’t take naps.)
• Use the bed only for sleep or sexual activity.
The article also suggests that if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity such as reading or listening to music.
It counsels avoid using sleeping pills to help you sleep, if possible. They can lead to dependence and can make sleep problems worse over time if you don’t use them correctly.
How do you deal with insomnia?