Sleep and Aging

Updated May 11, 2022

couple sleeping

How Aging Affects Sleep

As people age, they may find it more difficult to avoid sleep disturbances. As you get older, your body goes through changes that can have an effect on your sleep schedule. According to WebMD more than half of men and women over 65 have problems with sleep. This page will explain the multiple challenges that older people face that could have an impact on their sleep quality.

Pain

As you age, certain parts of your body will simply wear down. When you get older the cartilage that cushions your joints naturally deteriorates over time. You may also begin to suffer from chronic pain.

Older people are also more likely to face issues such as arthritis, back problems, GERD, and diabetes. More pain will disrupt your circadian rhythm and it will cause difficulty obtaining proper Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep. Talk with your doctor to help treat whatever is causing your pain.

Maintaining a proper sleep pattern can also help reduce pain as our articles on the science of sleep will discuss. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help, but you should always check with your doctor.

Insomnia

This is likely the result of some other health condition. If you are suffering from sleep difficulties such as falling asleep or staying asleep, your doctor can help. They may be able to prescribe sleep medicine or provide some other sleep aid.

More Medication

Along with more pain, getting old might also bring other health issues. These issues might include heart disease, high blood pressure, and thyroid problems. These new problems will usher in medication that you might not be used to taking. These medications could have side effects that could hinder your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. If your medication causes too much difficulty sleeping, ask your doctor about changing your medication.

Frequent Nighttime Urination

The urge to use the bathroom at night will interrupt sleep for many people over the age of 60. As you get older you lose the ability to retain fluid. Men and women have different reasons for frequent nighttime urination, making it harder to get enough hours of sleep or stay in a deep sleep.

According to Arkansas Urology, men may have an enlarged prostate which is not usually serious but it will keep you from emptying your bladder. After menopause, women produce less estrogen, which will cause changes in the urinary tract that cause you to have to go to the bathroom more often.

Menopause

As women get older their bodies stop making the hormones progesterone and estrogen. This can cause hot flashes which can cause women to wake up at night, causing sleep problems. A doctor may be able to prescribe hormones to stop these flashes.

Sleep Rhythm Changes

As people get older, they fall asleep early in the evening which makes them wake up earlier in the morning the next day. To stay in a natural rhythm, simply go along with your body’s changes. Attempting to fight this may result in daytime sleepiness.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that makes you stop breathing while you are sleeping. This is more common for people 40. See a sleep doctor if you find yourself feeling more groggy after you wake up.

There could be multiple possible fixes for sleep apnea. One easy fix could be losing the extra weight you may have put on. When you get older, your metabolism slows down which can make it harder to maintain a healthy weight. This could eventually lead to obesity.

You could also sleep with your head elevated by using an adjustable base. Your doctor may also prescribe a CPAP machine. For more information about sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, check out our page on common sleep disorders.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Some older adults might be more likely to suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). RLS is a medical condition that will give you the sudden urge to move your legs or make your legs feel tingly which may be accompanied by a burning sensation. It does not just randomly start after you reach a certain age. It is typically a side effect of other medications. If a new prescription causes RLS, talk to your doctor about making a change.

Mental Health Problems

It is normal for someone who is geriatric to develop a mental health problem like depression or anxiety. This is typically a result of other issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and other factors according to The Cleveland Clinic.

There is also the possibility of isolation as you get older. Changes in mental health will result in unfavorable sleep changes. To help you sleep better and stabilize your mental health, your health care provider can prescribe antidepressants or provide other help.

Excessive Napping

Older people are more likely to fall asleep during the day. The biggest risk with daytime naps is they might make it difficult to get enough sleep at night, resulting in poor sleep. For more information and tips regarding napping, check out our page on the benefits of naps.

Heart Issues

Normal aging causes your heart and blood vessels to stiffen according to CardioSmart. For people older than 75, high blood pressure is the most common heart condition. Coronary artery disease and heart failure are next. Your doctor may give you a prescription or recommend lifestyle changes to help with any heart-related illness you may have. 

Sleeping Tips

A lack of sleep will only make some of the above problems worse. For better sleep, make sure you have a consistent sleep schedule and that your sleep environment is comfortable for you. For more help visit our pages on sleep loss and sleep essentials.

Conclusion

As you age, you may develop one or more health problems which may result in difficulty falling or staying asleep. When something feels different, make sure you are seeking proper care to keep the problem from getting worse. Keeping in touch with your doctor will be the best way to manage your health problems and maintain your quality of sleep.

About the Author Steven Bieber

Steven is a content writer who recently broke into the mattress industry. In his free time, he enjoys watching football and listening to music.


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