As we age, our sleeping patterns change and most of these changes are normal, such as waking up earlier or becoming sleepy earlier, even experiencing shallower sleep than before. There’s no cause for concern as these changes are part of our body’s aging process. But if you’re experiencing the signs of insomnia, such as waking up feeling tired or experiencing disturbed sleep every day, when you previously didn’t should be cause for concern!
Keep in mind that quality sleep is just as important, perhaps more important, in older age as it was in youth. Studies have shown that older adults who experience sleep deprivation have higher risk of depression, excessive daytime sleepiness, and attention and memory problems, among others. This is because sleep is essential in maintaining memory and concentration skills, in repairing cell damage, and in strengthening the immune system that, in turn, aids in disease prevention (e.g., cardiovascular disease).
How much time should you spend sleeping on a comfortable and supportive Sleepwell mattress, if that’s your choice in a bed? While individual sleep requirement varies between persons, most healthy older adults need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep every night. The best way to determine whether you’re getting sufficient sleep is to observe how you feel in the morning – if you feel rested, then you’re probably getting sufficient sleep.
With that being said, here are two ways that you can enjoy better sleep despite the changes your body is going through as you get older – and don’t despair about getting older because it’s a privilege denied to many.
#1 Accept Your Body’s Changing Physiology
If you’re losing sleep over your body’s changes, then you’re at the losing end because these changes are inevitable. You must then accept these changes and, thus, stop losing sleep over it! You can then focus on finding the best ways to enjoy better sleep, from adopting healthy diet and exercise habits to decreasing your stress levels.
How does your body change as you grow older, sleep-wise? Your body produces lesser amounts of growth hormone resulting in decreased deep sleep, the most refreshing stage of the sleep cycle. Your body is also producing less melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness, so you’re likely to experience fragmented sleep (i.e., waking up more frequently during the night).
Ask your family and friends in the same age bracket as you are about their sleep patterns and you will likely find that most are light sleepers. Fragmented sleep is just one of many new experiences – others include wanting to go to sleep at an earlier time and waking up at an earlier hour, too, as well as spending more hours in bed to get your required sleep.
These changes are subtle and, thus, you have time to accept them and adopt measures to adapt to them. But if you feel that these changes are affecting your daily life or your quality of life, you should ideally talk with your doctor first instead of reaching for an over-the-counter sleeping aid. You can adopt several lifestyle changes that will bring you and your sleep closer, so to speak.
#2 Identify Underlying Issues, If Any
Your doctor can also identify the possible causes for your insufficient sleep. Many cases of sleep difficulties including insomnia in older adults are caused by treatable causes, and the earlier these are detected, the better these can be addressed.
You may want to keep a sleep diary where details of your sleeping habits can be entered. Your doctor can then use the information contained in it as part of his diagnostic process. You can enter details like what time you went to sleep and woke up, what things you did before hitting the sack, and what you felt after waking up.
Your doctor may also ask relevant questions like:
- Have you been stressed or traumatized lately?
- Do you feel depressed, hopeless, or helpless?
- Do you struggle with worry or anxiety?
- Do you have possible health issues or medical conditions that may be affecting your sleep?
- What’s your sleeping environment like?
- What’s your bedtime routine?
You have to be honest with your doctor as these things are often interrelated. For example, you may have been under extreme stress due to work-related pressures and, thus, you’re struggling with anxiety every night. You may be losing sleep, too, because your bedroom is a de facto playroom with plenty of stimulation from the television and gadgets.
Your doctor can also pinpoint possible causes for your insomnia as an older adult. These can include:
- Pain from an underlying medical condition like arthritis and nighttime heartburn
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Menopause or post-menopause symptoms (i.e., hot flashes and night sweats)
- Lack of exercise
- Medications with side effects affecting sleep patterns
- Lack of sunlight (i.e., bright sunlight aids in melatonin regulation and in the sleep-wake cycle)
- Sleep disorders (e.g., restless leg syndrome)
You don’t have to feel alone in your sleep-related struggles, too. Aside from your doctor, your bed partner can be your partner in another way, too, specifically in helping you enjoy better sleep. After all, you will both benefit once you achieve it!