Are you one of those who crib regularly about lack of sleep to people around you? Often, we find that senior citizens complain about not getting sleep or waking early. Know that you are not alone. Studies suggest that 40-70% of older adults have chronic sleep issues. Ageing does affect sleep. But people must understand what happens and find workarounds to fall asleep.
Understanding the impact of age on sleep
Our body has an internal clock called circadian rhythm that impacts many bodily functions, sleep included. A small part of our brain’s hypothalamus region controls this. As we age, the cells in this region weaken and affect the functioning of our circadian rhythm. One of the ways to keep these cells healthy is to get sufficient exposure to sunlight.
As we age, changes in our body’s hormone production affect our sleep. Apart from this, health conditions like diabetes, heart issues, arthritis, anxiety, etc., and a few prescription medications can also affect our sleep. Also, some people change their routines after retirement, like waking up or going to bed late, food habits or timings, etc. Any change in the routine followed for years upsets the circadian rhythm, especially in older adults.
What are the changes?
Here are the changes you may experience in your sleep.
Phase advance: The sleep schedule advances, and you will get up and feel sleepy earlier than previously.
Inability to fall asleep: Unable to fall asleep even when tired.
Changed quality of sleep: You may wake up a few times and find it difficult to fall asleep again. You may become a light sleeper, with even minor sounds disturbing your sleep.
Daytime napping: Seniors falling asleep during the day while reading, watching television, etc., is a common phenomenon.
Difficulty in adjusting to changed schedules: If you travel to different time zones, you may find it hard to recover from jet lag or align to the changed time zones.
How much sleep do seniors need?
Contrary to what many seniors believe, they need six to eight hours of sleep every day. If you cannot get the desired hours of quality sleep, it will affect your health in many ways. Hence, find the root cause of your sleep issues and rectify it. It could be the bedroom environment, anxiety, medications, physical discomforts like pain or frequent urination, etc. For women, menopause can affect the sleep.
What can I do?
Here are some tips to fall asleep naturally.
Exercise: Studies have proven that aerobic exercises help older adults sleep better. Try aerobic exercises like swimming or water exercises, dancing, walking, cycling or jogging, or even using stationary bikes or treadmills, to help improve sleep.
Distractions and environment: Artificial lights interfere with your body’s ability to produce melatonin, which helps induce sleep. Therefore, ensure your bedroom has the right environment and avoid using devices, even to read. Use masks and earplugs to avoid disturbances. Don’t keep TVs and clocks in your bedroom, as they negatively impact your sleep.
Diet: Diet plays a key role in your sleep. Avoid all forms of caffeine, at least post-lunch. Avoid large or spicy meals and eat a few hours before bedtime. You can have a warm glass of milk at bedtime if it helps. Minimise intake of sugar and refined carbs and avoid alcohol. Limit your liquid intake an hour to your sleep to avoid getting up in the night for urination.
Follow a routine: Maintaining a routine helps improve sleep. Try listening to music, taking a warm shower or readjusting your schedule to see if it helps. Leave your anxiety behind when you go to bed.
Limit afternoon naps: Keep your daytime naps short and take them in the early afternoon to improve your night sleep.
Consult a doctor if your sleep issues are interfering with your everyday activities. The doctor will decide on the best mode of treatment.