It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Skin can lose its elasticity, bones and muscles can become more stiff. Teeth might not be as firm as they once were. But one area of changes that can occur in old age that deserves more attention is sleep. Many of us heard from our parents or grandparents that they once slept like a log but are no longer able to do so.
Insomnia can be a common problem among senior citizens, so much so that the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found 48% of older adults experience symptoms of insomnia. Worried about sleep problems that you might be experiencing? Here’s what you need to know about the causes and various sleeping issues:
Causes of Sleep Problems in the Elderly
Sleep problems and insomnia can come from a number of causes, both emotional and physical. For instance, those with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia may be kept up late due to the symptoms of their conditions, or may find themselves waking at various points in the night due to their pain. Depression can cause too little or too much sleep, while anxiety and racing thoughts can keep people of all ages up at night. Heart conditions can be worsened by sleep issues as well as potentially causing sleep issues.
While these can in theory affect anyone at any age, these conditions become more common as we age, making sleep problems in the elderly more and more common. In addition, some medication can disrupt sleep, so it’s best to look at the side effects of your medication or speak to your doctor about it.
Types of Sleep Problems For the Elderly
We’ve gotten into the causes, but the truth is that there are multiple types of sleep problems that you might come across as you age. The most common is insomnia. Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It can be acute — lasting for a week or a few weeks, or it can be chronic if it happens regularly for three months or more. Insomnia can be caused by external factors, such as stressors or anxiety, but as people age many find that they struggle to get even 4-5 hours of sleep each night.
Sleep apnea is also a potential sleeping issue that can occur with age, and a serious one. This is characterized by breathing that starts and stops while sleeping. There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive, in which throat muscles relax and prevent regular breathing; and central, in which the brain fails to send proper signals to the respiratory system to cue breathing. In some cases, someone can have both obstructive and central sleep apnea, in which case it’s called complex sleep apnea. You may have concerns of sleep apnea if you find that you snore loudly throughout the night or wake up after a full night’s sleep not feeling rested regularly.
Many senior citizens experience interrupted sleep, in which they might go to bed at a regular time but find themselves waking, tossing, and turning during the night. They may also find that they wake earlier in the day — such as 4:30 or 5, rather than 6:30 or 7. This can be annoying on a personal level and can increase loneliness as it becomes more difficult to socialize on a lack of sleep or irregular hours.
Certain lifestyle habits — such as diet, exercise, and cutting down on caffeine and alcohol — can help to reduce sleep problems in the elderly. CJ & Associates Care Consulting will also evaluate sleep habits when judging the quality of life status for all of our clients. Want to learn how we can help? Contact us today for more information.