The Importance Of Sleep For Seniors
Have you ever wondered why it seems like many seniors hardly sleep for long at night, yet nod off during the day?
Aging brings numerous changes, and it’s essential to learn the best ways to adapt to live the healthiest, happiest possible life.
Understanding the body’s changing sleep needs is one of the most vital things seniors can do when it comes to maintaining their well-being.
Although many believe that older adults don’t need as much sleep as other age groups, they actually need as much as children and teens–about 7 to 9 hours per night.
Despite this, most aren’t getting the necessary sleep they need. 13% of men and 36% of women age 65 and older say it takes them longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
The combination of too little sleep and poor sleep quality is detrimental to senior health.
Making the right changes to improve your sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body and quality of life.
Benefits Of Quality Sleep
It’s no secret that a good night’s rest can do more than any amount of coffee. But, did you know it could also improve your cardiovascular health?
Here are some other things you can expect from improving your sleep routine:
- Greater alertness throughout the day
- Better memory and attention span
- Less reliance on some medications
- Fewer symptoms associated with depression
- A steadier appetite
- Better balance and a lower chance of falls
- Feeling happier and more engaged day-to-day
Why Seniors Struggle With Sleep
There are several reasons why older adults may struggle with feeling rested, even with good sleep hygiene.
In addition to changes in sleep that naturally occur as we age, other factors, both internal and external, play a part in sleep health.
Melatonin and Circadian Rhythm
People of any age might struggle to fall and stay asleep, but for seniors, this is especially so. One reason is that aging causes decreased melatonin production.
You may have seen it in the supermarket as a supplement. But melatonin is actually a hormone that our bodies routinely produce when it begins to get dark.
As we become older, the pineal gland that makes and releases this hormone slows production, which can keep us feeling alert at night rather than sleepy.
Beginning in middle age, our body starts to lower our sleep time by 30 minutes every ten years.
Decreased melatonin production means less time spent in REM sleep and a more difficult time falling into a deeper sleep state.
Melatonin also impacts the body’s circadian rhythm, which is an internal clock that regulates our waking and sleeping hours.
Change in the circadian rhythm may be why older adults become tired earlier in the day and feel alert early in the morning.
Medication or other health issues can also interfere with sleep. Researchers have found that seniors with no physical or psychiatric problems sleep better than those who do.
Even for those with no health concerns, other things can impact sleep.
Also, keep in mind that there is a difference between getting enough sleep and getting quality sleep.
Those who sleep the recommended 7-9 hours every night might still wake up feeling poorly because of various factors.
Importance Of Sleep For Seniors
Quality rest is essential for everyone, but for older adults, it is especially the case.
Studies have found a link between REM sleep and memory loss that can lead to Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Sleep disturbances cause fragmented rest and prevent us from getting the full 4-5 REM cycles needed to store memories, process emotions, and dream.
A good night’s sleep usually means a minimum of 7 hours of uninterrupted rest. When people don’t get the necessary amount of quality of sleep, sleep deprivation can occur.
Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest detriments to anyone’s health and well-being because it can affect such a broad scope of someone’s life.
Seniors are more likely to experience the adverse effects of sleep deprivation more strongly, such as:
- The brain’s ability to learn new things and remember information
- Difficulty regulating mood, depression, and dementia
- Poor balance, leading to a higher risk of falling
- Physical cravings for unhealthy or high-sugar foods
- Heart disease
Tips For Sleeping Better
Fortunately, there are steps that seniors can take to improve their sleep health.
- Stick to a routine. Going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day, even if you slept poorly, will help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep and avoid going to bed too early or sleeping in too late.
- Avoid screens. TVs, tablets, phones, computers, and other devices all emit blue light, which can confuse your body’s natural sleep and wake cycles. Try to avoid screens at least an hour before bed, and use a blue light filter on your devices whenever possible.
- Nap responsibly. For seniors,
there’s nothing wrong with an afternoon nap. But the key is to keep them to 20 minutes max and avoid napping after 4 PM.
- Exercise regularly. A sedentary lifestyle makes it challenging to feel tired at the end of the day. Check out indoor activities for seniors you can do in the comfort of your home.
- Meditate. Meditation is a great way to get a handle on racing thoughts that come during the night. There are several apps and online videos to guide you through different meditations and give you peace of mind that will help you sleep better.
It is important to discuss your sleep habits and routines with your health care provider, especially if a physical issue is interfering with your ability to sleep well.
Avoid taking sleeping pills, as they will only build tolerance and suppress REM cycles over time. Instead, try melatonin supplements, either as a pill or in liquid form.
That, combined with routine bed- and wake times, will give your circadian rhythm the boost it needs to regulate your ability to sleep naturally.
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