One of the most common misconceptions about aging is that the older we get, the less sleep we need. Unlike a newborn baby who requires around 16 hours of sleep throughout a 24-hour cycle, adults need anywhere from seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. This number does not change for seniors, even though they do experience a shift in their sleep-wake cycles, going to bed earlier and waking up earlier.
However, insomnia in the elderly is also a common occurrence, and it affects around 50 percent of adults age 60 or older. Insomnia is defined as a condition where one has difficulty falling and staying asleep, or feeling like you aren’t getting enough sleep. Normal sleep occurs in several stages, from light, dreamless sleep to periods of active dreaming called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As we age, our sleep patterns will change, and the amount of time you spend in each stage of sleep will change. But, if you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, your health can start to suffer.
What Causes Insomnia in the Elderly?
A variety of things can cause insomnia in the elderly, although many of them can be treated. It can be caused by certain health conditions like cardiovascular disease, COPD or asthma, chronic pain from arthritis or osteoporosis, or sleep apnea. Your environment can also play a role in poor sleep; if your bedroom is noisy, not dark enough or not at a comfortable temperature. Medications can create side effects that disrupt sleep, an irregular sleep schedule, and stress and anxiety can also affect how well you are sleeping.
A few of the most common insomnia symptoms include:
- Difficulty falling asleep.
- Lower quality sleep.
- Awaken at least three times throughout the night.
- Day/night confusion.
- Changes in circadian rhythm – going to sleep and waking up earlier.
Insomnia Treatment for a Good Night’s Sleep
If you aren’t getting quality sleep on a regular basis, there are a few insomnia treatments you can implement to promote healthy sleeping. For instance, you can:
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Go to bed around the same time every night. Involve yourself in soothing activities, like reading or taking a hot bath to relax and get sleepy.
- Make sure your sleeping environment is comfortable. Your bedroom should be a peaceful environment, free of loud noises and distractions. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and the temperature is set a bit lower overnight to keep you cool.
- Eliminate evening exercise. While daily exercise is important, it should be done earlier in the day. Do not exercise within three hours of bedtime.
- Nap earlier in the day. If you can avoid taking a daily nap altogether, that’s recommended most. However, if you do nap, do so earlier in the day so you’re sufficiently tired when the evening hours roll around.
- Avoid caffeine within three hours of bedtime. Caffeine, other stimulants, and alcohol should not be consumed within three hours of your designated bedtime. Alcohol may make you sleepy initially, but you could wake later in the night.
- Clear your mind before going to bed. If possible, try to deal with your worries of the day before getting in bed. Turn off your mind and focus on peaceful thoughts.
If insomnia continues to be a problem for you, schedule a visit with your doctor. There may be medications you can try for a short time to get on regular sleeping patterns, or your doctor may recommend other techniques or possibly a sleep study to allow you to get the best night’s sleep possible.