Have you noticed that your sleeping patterns or quality have changed over the years? Are you getting enough sleep?
Scientists have found that, for optimal health and well-being, the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of good-quality sleep every night.
Does this requirement change as we age? How much sleep do older people need? How does ageing itself impact sleep?
It might surprise you to learn that, after middle age and into our senior years, we do need just as much sleep as we did in our youth. Yet it’s also a fact that sleep patterns and quality change significantly as we get older.
Did you know?
- Older people (particularly women) tend to take much longer to fall asleep at night.
- Older people often only manage to attain light sleep, meaning that they wake more often through the night and are not as well-rested in the morning.
- Up to 40% of older people have at least one short nap every day (of at least 30 minutes).
- Most elderly people (age 80 and over) nap for more than one hour during the day, every day.
The likelihood of experiencing sleep disorders also increases as we get older. Moreover, several medical conditions associated with ageing disrupt sleep.
The Effect of Ageing on Sleep
Sleep is controlled by our circadian rhythms, which also manage hunger and other body processes. Melatonin is a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle.
From around middle age (40-60), the body clock changes; melatonin production not only declines but the hormone is released earlier in the day. This significantly impacts sleep quality. As a result, older people often get sleepier sooner, and go to bed earlier, but then wake in the middle of the night and then struggle to go back to sleep. They’ll also usually wake for the day earlier in the morning – sometimes even before dawn.
Other things that contribute to sleep changes in middle- to older age include:
- Certain medications.
- Lifestyle habits, including daytime napping.
- Lack of daily structure later in life after retirement.
- Stress, anxiety, depression.
- Menopausal symptoms in women.
- Prostate issues in men.
- Indigestion/gastroesophageal reflux.
- Pain caused by arthritis, osteoporosis, and general physical decline.
- Health conditions such as Cardiac and Lung Disease, Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia and Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Periodic limb movement disorder or restless leg syndrome.
- Insomnia is quite common in older people, especially those who reside in nursing homes.
Snoring and sleep apnoea are both remarkably common in older people and many never seek medical attention for these. Both are disruptive to a good night’s sleep, impact health and well-being, and sleep apnoea in particular has serious health ramifications.
Why is Good Sleep so Important as We Age?
Poor quality sleep directly influences various health conditions which are more common as we get older.
Ageing negatively impacts sleep, but you also need to understand that poor sleep habits and sleep quality can actively accelerate ageing processes and further contribute to poor health. As such, getting poor quality sleep more than occasionally increases your risk of memory and concentration issues, irritability and other mood changes, falls, and other accidents.
Strategies for Better Sleep
- Keep to a regular sleep schedule. Aim to go to sleep at the same time every night – even on weekends – and get up at the same time every day – even on weekends!
- Don’t nap excessively. There’s nothing like an afternoon nap, but it can be the enemy of your nighttime sleep. Older people generally nap more often and for shorter times than young people. If you must nap, just have one per day at most, not after 3 pm, and for no longer than 20-30 minutes.
- Prioritise sunlight exposure. Natural sunlight triggers melatonin responses and getting a dose of sunlight in the early morning and late helps to reset your body clock. This sensitises your body to sleep during the hours of darkness at night. Spend some time in the sun on your patio, in your garden, going for a gentle stroll, or by a window.
- Move every day. Exercise – even light, gentle walking – is important for a healthy body and mind. It also promotes better sleep. Exercising does become more difficult for many older people, but moving in any way you can is beneficial: walking around the block, to the corner, around your garden, or just to your letterbox; gardening; hanging out washing; stretching in your chair; or whatever you are capable of.
- Consider melatonin supplementation. Melatonin is naturally produced by the body, but it can also be taken in supplement form. Melatonin supplementation is much safer than taking sleeping pills. Ask your local pharmacist or your GP about this and whether it’s suitable for you – it’s available in a low dosage over the counter or a higher dose (if appropriate) with a prescription from your doctor.
- Herbal remedies. These include drinking herbal tisanes (chamomile, lavender, passionflower, valerian) or taking supplements (e.g., valerian) to help promote sleep. Check with your doctor first to ensure there is no interaction of these with any medication you are taking.
- Implement a Bedtime Routine. This includes taking a warm bath, drinking a warm milk drink, and removing television and electronics from the bedroom. You also need to avoid caffeine from mid-afternoon, stop smoking, avoid eating large evening meals or eating late at night, and minimise alcohol consumption.
- Address snoring and sleep apnoea. These are both detrimental to good health. Try using a stop-snoring device like ApneaRx.
- Get Help. See your doctor for advice to help you sleep better and to address any medical conditions that disrupt your sleep.
Try the ApneaRx Anti-Snoring Device
Good quality sleep is essential for long-term health at any age – and preventing snoring is an important way to achieve this.
ApneaRx is the New Zealand brand of a world-class medically engineered mandibular advance device designed to treat the symptoms associated with mild to moderate sleep apnea and snoring. It gently moves the lower jaw slightly forward when worn in the mouth during sleep. This simple repositioning of the lower jaw helps to open the airways and improves or even prevents snoring and sleep apnea.
Reusable, washable, safe, affordable, and comfortable to wear, ApneaRx is great for adults of all ages and stages of life.