Most people have heard that a good night’s sleep keeps you healthy and rested. As you get older, sleep can become elusive. If you are struggling to sleep, you’re not alone. About 4 out of 5 people say that they have sleep problems at least one time per week. The result is feeling exhausted even after laying down for hours.
How can you wake up feeling rested and ready for the day? We want you to grab a pillow and read through this sleep and aging guide for more information.
Why Older Adults Can't Sleep
One report shows that older adults sleep under 7 hours, which is less than the bare minimum needed for proper rest. Another survey by the National Institutes of HEalth (NIH) studied individuals over 66 as they slept. The results were that 13% of men and nearly 30% of women needed more than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
Could sleep disorders be the cause of the issue? It’s best to talk to a doctor about what you feel when you can’t sleep and possibly go through a sleep study to see what’s causing your unrest.
Have you ever done a sleep study? You could have a sleep disorder. There are two types of disorders including:
How Much Sleep Do You Need When You're Older
If you have woken up tired again from another night of unrest, there are some strategies to help you keep your eyes closed and your mind off of anxious thoughts.
Before understanding the required amount of sleep, the right amount of sleep depends on your schedule and health. If you feel tired every day, then you aren’t getting enough sleep.
Science does say that people who sleep 7 hours a night may live longer, healthier lives. Studies show that sleeping less than 7 hours every day leads to significant health problems. It can exacerbate heart disease, depression, obesity, and immune system problems.
Factors Affecting Your Sleep
Did you know that newborns sleep 14 to 17 hours? When you age this number goes down, and by the time you’re 60, the minimum number of hours for sleep is just 7. However, sleep experts say that you should try for 9 or 10 hours.
Some of the main reasons why this number seems so impossible are:
Maybe you always had difficulty shutting off your mind and getting a good night’s sleep, but typically, it gets harder to fall asleep on your own as you get older. If you are constantly thinking about
Does your family have a history of insomnia or other health problems such as sleep apnea? If so, you may need more than sleep techniques and meditation to get over these problems.
Diet and Lifestyle
Are you over-worked and over-caffeinated? Do you keep the TV or your mobile phone on when you try to sleep? Your lifestyle could be affecting your sleep. Optimal sleep schedules include a period of 1 to 2 hours before sleep that winds down the body and mind. Instead of drinking coffee or caffeinated sodas before bed, try a tea like Sleepy Time.
To ensure that you fall asleep and stay asleep, move your bed to a room without a television or computer, and you should leave your phone in another room. This is done to make it impossible for your mind to become distracted with something else. Instead, you can focus on deep breathing and sleep.
If you need something to help you fall asleep, there are sound machines with ambient noises that can calm your mind down and help you fall asleep naturally.
Not everyone has a quiet house, and if your environment isn’t optimal for sleep, you probably have anxiety that keeps making you get up at night. If there are environmental factors keeping you up at night, then you may want to invest in earplugs and an eye mask. These could help you block out noises and lights causing unrest.
Do you have a condition keeping you up at night, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, back pain, heart arrhythmia, or something else? It can be difficult to rest if your body is in pain. If your mattress isn’t suitable for your back, you could wake up in the middle of the night with extreme pain.
Fixing your sleep schedule will require tackling these health problems with your doctor. From losing weight and strengthening muscles to help with back pain or taking medications treat problems like restless leg syndrome, your sleep will come once these significant pains and body stresses go away.
Medications and Side Effects
Have you started a new prescription? If insomnia started along with a new medication, you could be experiencing an adverse interaction. It’s best to talk to your doctor about the side effects of your medication and how it has affected your sleep.
Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia
When thoughts overwhelm us, sleep doesn’t seem like the right choice. People often just want to escape the feelings of depression and anxiety that cause insomnia. Most people use TV or computers to escape, but others simply stay up, rolling around, futilely trying to fall asleep.
If you are having problems with depression and anxiety, there are different therapies to try, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. There are also treatments to help you stabilize your mood and manage uncontrollable negative thoughts causing stress.
How Age Affects Insomnia
Insomnia is characterized as someone who can’t fall asleep easily on a daily basis. Almost half of all adults in America over the age of 60 have problems with insomnia. There are a few things to watch out for if you think you have insomnia:
Do You Have Short-Term Insomnia or Chronic Insomnia?
IF you have just started to feel the impact of not sleeping regularly, you could have short-term insomnia. This is a type of insomnia that starts to present sleeping problems, but it’s temporary and may be treatable just by fixing the root cause, such as environmental factors or something that’s recently changed your health status.
Doctors usually have to diagnose chronic insomnia because symptoms may be experienced over a longer period of time. The time requirement is typically one month of insomnia symptoms. In addition, if insomnia continues after resolving other factors, then it’s also considered chronic.
There are two kinds of insomnia that most people experience:
There are also other types of insomnia disorders to describe what factors are causing the problem. These are categorized into:
If you suddenly start to feel the effects of insomnia and you haven’t had issues in the past, then you have primary insomnia, which is an independent sleeping condition that rises on its own without any contributing factors.
For those who experience physiological factors, such as a medical condition, you likely have secondary insomnia. Most elderly individuals experience secondary insomnia because of poor health, medical conditions, or due to side effects from medications.
Understanding Insomnia and the Stages of Sleep
One of the biggest problems with insomnia is that it changes your sleep schedule. You can no longer simply fall asleep and get up to do what you have to do in the morning. However, insomnia actually changes how we experience each stage of sleep.
There are three stages of sleep:
First Stage: Light Sleep
This is when you are still falling asleep and trying to enter deep sleep. If you are a light sleeper, then you probably wake up easily from a slight noise or even just unconscious anxiety.
Second Stage: Slow Wave Sleep
This is a deeper form of sleep where you become unconscious and slip into slumber. Light sleep and slow-wave sleep are also part of non-rapid eye movement or non-REM sleep.
Third Stage: Rapid Eye Movement or REM Sleep
When a person falls into REM sleep, they are receiving deep rest. This is the best time for your body to repair. If you don’t feel rested in the morning, then you may never have entered REM sleep.
Most older individuals cycle through REM and non-REM every 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This is referred to as your circadian rhythm. The ability to enter REM sleep can decrease with age, causing changes to your sleep schedule.
In fact, many older adults experience shallow sleep, which keeps them in the first and second stage of sleep. They never enter REM sleep or it declines by 10 minutes for every decade of life. This means if you are over 65, you may not be able to experience REM sleep.
What's Causing Your Insomnia?
If you aren’t entering or staying in REM sleep, you probably feel tired and exhausted every day. This is because your mind and body aren’t getting enough rest from day to day. This can lead to depression and further health problems due to the way humans are wired.
There is one common problem for older adults who experience insomnia more acutely after 65:
The term thermoregulation refers to how your body regulates and maintains your internal temperature. It can also affect your sleep, since body temperature helps regulate our comfort level and how we fall asleep. For example, people tend to wake up in the morning with the rise of their body temperature.
When thermoregulation becomes irregular or disappears completely, your body temperature may not be in line with your circadian rhythm. This puts you at further risk for developing sleep disorders, particularly insomnia.
Other Causes of Sleep Problems in Older Adults
Studies have found that there are various chronic illnesses that also have insomnia as a symptom. These chronic conditions and old age can lead to secondary insomnia as well.
Illnesses associated with insomnia include:
If you are experiencing these problems, there’s no reason to go through this alone. Doctors, therapists, and even holistic services can aid in treating insomnia as a symptom. You don’t have to deal with insomnia on your own.
Acknowledge Your Bad Sleep Habits
Besides medical conditions and other factors affecting sleep, elderly adults can develop bad sleeping habits. For example, after retirement, there may not be a whole lot of activity throughout the day, which leads you to take naps or move to a sedentary lifestyle.
If you spend more time in bed and sitting around the house, you probably don’t get a full 7 hours of sleep. Instead, you may fall asleep only to wake up early. If you aren’t getting a lot of sleep, then you probably continuously feel tired throughout the day, leading to more naps.
Daytime drowsiness is one of the main problems for folks with insomnia. It can lead to depression, but it’s also dangerous for your way of life. With exhaustion and drowsiness, you may be at risk for auto accidents, falling accidents, and disorientation. Other adults experience chronic migraines and irritability.
How to Restart Your Sleep Schedule
If you have fallen into a sleep schedule that has led to insomnia, you may be able to reset and restart your sleep routine. We have a few tips to help you get back on track. However, we want to strongly recommend that you talk to a doctor if you aren’t able to get rid of insomnia despite changing your routine.
Don't Nap Unless It's Necessary
Have you gotten in the habit of taking naps throughout the day? If you want to stay awake and don’t have a medical condition that requires a nap, you have to find a way to stay away. One doctor recommends that you exercise when you feel like napping to get into a different mood.
Light exercise such as walks, biking, resistant training, yoga, gardening, or elliptical training may be just the thing to get you out of nap time.
Get Up at the Same Time Each Day
To change your routine, you sometimes have to get more structured about when you go to sleep and when you wake up. Have you ever felt that you have a clock in your head that knows when to wake you up? It’s important to set a time to wake up and get on the same page with your internal clock. Once retired, many older adults don’t have the same job to go to in the morning, so it becomes easier to hit snooze and sleep in.
However, sleeping in just makes it harder to get your day started, which could lead to a feeling of exhaustion that you carry with you all day. Instead, try to go to bed at a time when you’ll get at least 7 hours of sleep and wake up at the best time to start your day.
Avoid Strenuous Activity Before Sleep
Sleep routines actually start about 1 to 2 hours before you actually lay down. Doctors recommend the following:
How Long Does It Take to Reset Your Schedule
For people with medical conditions and underlying problems, it will take as much time as necessary to speak with your doctor and come up with a treatment plan. You may need medications that also may take 2 to 3 weeks to be effective.
If you are able to change your habits and stay patient, it all depends on how consistent you are and whether they are mitigating factors. Most doctors say that it takes 1 to 2 months to reset your sleep schedule.
Should You Take Sleep Aids?
Did you know that about 20% of seniors use a sleep aid to treat sleep problems? If you haven’t talked to your doctor before starting this routine, you may be putting yourself at risk for other health problems. Sleep aids can help you get to sleep, but long-term use may lead to complications.
For example, many doctors prescribe benzodiazepines, which slow down your central nervous system. However, these lead to more drowsiness, muscle weakness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and in some cases, death. There are also higher dependency risks.
There are also non-benzodiazepine drugs called Z drugs that include Ambien and Sonata. These drugs are different because they only affect sleepiness and not all triggers from the central nervous system. These are less addictive, but they have other side effects. For example, Ambien can lead to memory loss, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea.
Melatonin is a common sleep aid that can be found in natural supplements and teas. However, there are still side effects with this natural sleep aid. However, the dependency risk is much lower than any other prescription drug.
Criticism of Long-Term Sleep Aids
There have been a variety of complaints about nursing homes that use sleep aids. Since nursing homes try to institute a regimen for everyone, sleeping pills can cause impaired memory, incontinence, physical imbalances, daytime sleepiness, and loss of alertness.
Doctors should treat you individually and offer non-addictive solutions first if possible. Melatonin and other natural remedies offer more benefits unless insomnia is due to a medical condition or is so persistent that it requires a stronger medication.