Sleep and Old Age: How Aging Impacts Sleep Patterns
Health, Sleep

Sleep and Old Age: How Aging Impacts Sleep Patterns

Getting older is a bittersweet experience, but some parts of it are just not done – like sleep. Over 65-year-old men and women report having at least one sleep issue. Even though this change in sleeping patterns is pretty gradual, it can make it hard to enjoy the little things in life when you can’t fall asleep


It’s true that our sleep habits vary as we age – such as getting tired or waking up earlier, or getting less deep sleep. But if you suffer from insomnia symptoms such as restless sleep and tiredness during the day; it is not normal. Regardless of your age, you must get enough sleep. Your physical and emotional wellbeing is just as vital to sleep as they were when you were younger.


This is why it becomes all the more important to analyze the underlying causes of your sleep issues if you want to increase the quality of your sleep. It is possible to prevent sleep difficulties associated with aging, enjoy a decent night’s sleep, and improve the quality of your waking hours by learning how sleep changes as we age by following the advice provided here.

Why Does Aging Affect Sleep? 

We tend to feel drowsy earlier in the evening as we become older. As our sleeping hours vary, we may find ourselves waking up early in the morning. More senior adults sleep with less REM and more slow wave sleep, and in elderly adults, less slow wave sleep may hinder memory consolidation. 


The body’s internal clock changes because sleep changes in individuals. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a master clock in the brain’s hypothalamus region, controls our circadian rhythms – the daily cycles of 24 hours that affect your sleep-wake cycle. These 24-hour cycles affect things like hunger, the release of certain hormones, and the feeling of being alert or sleepy.


As people age, their sleep patterns change because aging impacts SCN. When the SCN isn’t working adequately, circadian rhythms become irregular, which has a direct effect on our alert- or tired-ness.


In addition to changes in sleep cycles, older people become more sensitive to sleep disturbances that cause poor sleep and low oxygen levels in the brain. These changes gradually take over your everyday life and are oftentimes characterized by a shift in your circadian clock by approximately half an hour every ten years. One example is sleep apnea, a medical condition that causes loud snoring, gradual changes in breathing patterns while sleeping, and tiredness during the day.

Effects of Aging on Sleep 

Most people find that as they grow older, it becomes harder to fall asleep. They are also far more likely to wake up at night and earlier-than-usual in the morning. Here are some ways how aging can affect your sleep:

  • Daytime Napping: Daytime naps are more common among the elderly than the young (8% vs 25%), according to a study. According to some experts, taking an extended nap or sleeping later in the day may make it more difficult to get to sleep at night, while others say both are detrimental to a good night’s rest.

  • Waking Up At Night: According to research, people’s sleep architecture changes as they age. The architecture of sleep refers to how humans cycle through the various stages of sleep. Older people sleep more in the early, lighter stages and less in the latter, deeper stages. These changes may contribute to older adults waking up frequently at night and having less restful and fragmented sleep.

  • Longer Recovery Time: Changes in the way the body controls circadian rhythms make it more challenging for older people to adjust to abrupt changes in their sleep habits, such as during daylight savings or when traveling. 

  • Changing Sleep Schedules: Many older folks report feeling weary sooner in the afternoon and getting up earlier in the morning as this phase progresses. The change from sleep to waking up is often sudden, giving older people the impression that they sleep less than they did when they were younger.

Some Sleeping Issues Seniors May Face 

According to studies, between 40–70% of older adults experience chronic sleep problems, with up to 50% of cases going undiagnosed. Chronic sleep issues can greatly hinder older adults’ ability to go about their everyday lives and lower their quality of life. The most common sleep problems in older adults include:


  • Daytime Drowsiness: Excessive daytime sleepiness affects approximately 20% of the elderly, which may be a symptom of a deeper health problem rather than simply old age. Excessive daytime sleepiness in older persons may be a sign of a medical condition such as sleep apnea, cognitive issues, or cardiovascular disease.


  • Insomnia: One of the most prevalent sleep problems in older persons is having chronic trouble falling or staying asleep. Numerous overlapping variables may contribute to insomnia, but treatment can help. According to a study, stress, drugs, poor sleep patterns, or changes in the sleep environment can lead to insomnia.


  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): As a person tries to fall asleep, they may experience itching, crawling, or restlessness. The symptoms are generally uncomfortable but not painful, and they improve with activity.


  • Sleep Apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can cause hypertension, coronary artery disease, depression, or even cognitive problems. It can also lead to an increase in amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS): PLMS produces irregular movements when sleeping, most commonly in the lower body. It might cause pain in the toes, feet, knees, or hips. The motions may or may not disturb the person, but they can be bothersome to a bedmate.


  • Nighttime Urination: Nighttime urination, also known as nocturia, becomes more common with age because of physical changes in the urinary bladder, among other things. This problem may affect up to 80% of older adults, adding to more sleep interruptions.


  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: RBD (REM sleep behavior disorder) primarily affects the elderly. While most people’s bodies remain still while dreaming, this disorder can force people to act out their dreams violently.

Tips for Seniors to Sleep Better 

According to research, elderly people can make changes to their sleeping habits by making some minor changes to their bedroom. They can also focus on enhancing sleep hygiene and creating routines promoting restful sleep. Here are some pointers for having a better night’s sleep as you age:


  • Boost Your Melatonin Level: Artificial lighting at night can reduce your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Use low-wattage bulbs when possible, and turn off the television and laptop at least an hour before going to bed.

  • Take a Warm Bath: The dip in body temperature when you get out of the tub may help you feel tired. It can also help you unwind and slow down, making you more ready to sleep.

  • Address Snoring Issues: Snoring can often be overcome with a few positive changes to your sleep routine, or you might invest in an anti-snoring device, such as Smart Nora.

  • Invest in a Good Mattress: What you sleep on can impact how long you sleep. It is critical to inspect your bedding every five to seven years. Also, as you grow older, the wear and tear on your body begin to show, emphasizing the need for a top-quality, comfortable mattress. Consider mattress purchases to be an investment in your wellbeing. Since there is no one-size-fits-all mattress, choose one that is appropriate for older folks and helps the spine keep its natural curve and alignment.

  • Develop a Consistent Schedule: Allow no more than eight hours of sleep. A healthy adult should get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Most people do not need more than eight hours of sleep to feel rested. Every day, including weekends, sleep and get up at the same hour. Consistency strengthens your body’s sleep-wake cycle.


  • Have a Bedtime Routine: Playing calming music, reading a book, or practicing a relaxation method such as gradual muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, or breathing exercises can help you wind down before bed.

  • Drink a Soothing Tea: If you’re having difficulties going to sleep, try warm milk, chamomile tea, or even sour cherry juice. These natural therapies, which have no adverse effects or drug reactions, can help you sleep better. Chamomile tea contains no caffeine, so pour yourself a hot cup and sleep better the natural way.

Sleep Like a Baby

You don’t have to be a baby to sleep like one. You can take steps to improve your sleep, instead of just putting up with sleep problems. Along with following the above suggestions, you can also opt for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to get a better night’s sleep. Your sleep therapist may recommend you to take long walks, meditate, maintain a sleep journal, and rethink your relationship with sleep, among other things.

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