11 Jul Seniors and Sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. It is essential for mental and physical health, quality of life, and safety. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. The consequences of not enough sleep can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others
Seniors need the same amount of sleep as any adult–about 7 to 9 hours every night. However, unlike their younger counterparts, older adults tend go to bed earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. It’s ok to be an early riser or a night owl as long you receive at least 7 hour of sleep a night and wake up feeling rested and refreshed.
Sleep Problems in Seniors
Sleep disorders increase with age. In fact, more than 50% of adults 65 and up have some form of chronic sleep related complaints including difficulty falling asleep, trouble maintaining sleep, and total amount of nightly sleep. There are many reasons why older adults may not get enough sleep at night. This includes feeling sick or being in pain, and experiencing depression or anxiety. Certain medications, such as steroids or those to lower blood pressure, may also be the cause of a restless night. No matter the reason, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, the next day you may:
- Be irritable
- Have memory problems or be forgetful
- Feel depressed
- Have more falls or accidents
Everyone has an occasional bad night, however, you may be experiencing insomnia if you have consistent trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia can last for days, months, and even years. You may have insomnia if you:
- Take a long time to fall asleep
- Wake up many times in the night
- Rise early and are unable to get back to sleep
- Wake up tired
- Feel very sleepy during the day
People with sleep apnea have short pauses in breathing while they are asleep. These pauses may happen many times during the night. If not treated, sleep apnea can lead to other problems, such as high blood pressure, stoke, memory loss, or even death. You may be unaware you have sleep apnea. Feeling sleepy during the day, taking daily naps, and being told you are snoring loudly at night could be signs of the condition.
And while the majority of people affected by sleep apnea are typically older, heavyset men, women of all sizes can also be affected. See your physician if you think you may have apnea. Your doctor will order a sleep study which can be done in either a sleep lab or performed at home (which may not be as conclusive but more convenient). Sleeping in certain positions can help keep the airway open. Treatment using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is the main form of treatment. A dental device or surgery may also help.
Safe Sleep Tips for Older Adults
Try to set up a safe and restful place to sleep. Make sure you have smoke alarms on each floor of your home. Before going to bed, lock all windows and outside doors. In addition:
- Keep a telephone with emergency phone numbers by your bed.
- Have a lamp within reach that is easy to turn on.
- Put a glass of water next to the bed in case you wake up thirsty.
- Don’t smoke especially in bed.
- Remove area rugs so you won’t trip if you get out of bed during the night.
- Use night lights in your bedroom and bathroom
Tips to Fall and Stay Asleep
There are some tricks to help you fall asleep. For example try counting slowly backwards from 300. Or, tell yourself if you wake up in the middle of the night, that you are simply going back to sleep. Some people find that relaxing their bodies puts them to sleep. Start with your feet and imagine they are completely relaxed. Move to your ankles then work your way up to the rest of your body, section by section. Many people drift off before getting to the top of the head.
Being unable to sleep can become a habit. Some people worry about falling to sleep even before they get into bed. This may make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Older adults may use over-the-counter sleep aids or prescription medicines. These medicines may help when used for a short time but they are not a long-term solution for a restful night of sleep.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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