Common Sleep Problems in the Elderly

Sleeping is a natural part of life that everybody takes for granted when growing up. However, once you start nearing retirement age, the natural ability to fall asleep and stay asleep slowly tends to lose its grip on you.

Although many older adults experience problems sleeping, most just accept sleep disorders as part of the process of growing older and leave it at that. However, there are a number of steps that you can take to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Firstly, as we grow older, the body produces less of the chemicals that help your body recognize when it is time to sleep and time to wake up. One of the main ingredients in this chemical makeup is called melatonin. When this key chemical decreases, your inner body clock or circadian rhythm is thrown out of sync.

The consequence is that you may find that you never really fall into a deep, restful sleep because you are waking up several times a night or have trouble even falling asleep or waking too early. Considering that you still need the same amount of sleep as you did before, this problem can be quite frustrating. To compensate for your tiredness during the day, you may find yourself taking naps to make up for it.

Sleep Disorders Affect Majority of Elderly Participants in a Large Mayo Clinic Study

What Helps Elderly with Sleep Problems

Getting older does not necessarily mean that you automatically have a sleep disorder. Quite often, there are things that you can try to help alter your sleep patterns. One of those things relates to melatonin, mentioned above.

Melatonin Sleep Aid

It is possible to buy melatonin in pill form from a pharmacy. After getting the go ahead from your doctor, follow the instructions for taking the melatonin, but be patient as it might take a few days for it to take effect. The melatonin has been helpful for some people in reprogramming the body to recognize its own circadian rhythms.

Good Habits for Better Sleep

Sometimes, it is a matter of changing your sleeping habits in order to get a good night’s sleep. One of the many suggestions that doctors will advise older adults is to develop a bedtime routine and stick to it, even when travelling. You are training your body to expect sleep at a certain time, which will help improve your overall sleep patterns.

Here are a few more suggestions for older adults in regard to getting a good, restful night’s sleep.

  • Exercise is important, not only for your health, but also for improving sleep. Because sleep is a rejuvenator, exercise can tire your body enough to the point where it needs that sleep to recuperate.
  • Keep your sleeping area cool, dark and quiet. Many older adults experience different body changes such as menopause, so hot flashes are sometimes the norm. Keeping cool allows your body to progress from drowsiness to sleep. Dark and quiet time simulates the night, which helps keep your body clock or circadian rhythms in check.
  • Choose a number of relaxing activities such as soft music or a good book and incorporate them into your bedtime routine. Even a glass of warm milk is a great idea as it contains tryptophan, which is a natural sleep aid.
  • Journaling your day also helps you put your thoughts and worries on paper, so that your mind is not clouded at bedtime. Stress and obsessing over events that happened in your day are several things that can interfere with sleep patterns.

Another consequence of getting older is that you sometimes end up with additional health issues, which can also get in the way of a good night’s sleep.

Arthritis, heart problems, acid reflux and stroke are just a few of the many conditions that play a part in insomnia and other sleep disorders. Medications for these conditions and others such as diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease are also culprits. Chronic pain conditions play a role in sleeplessness, as does depression.

Discussing matters with your doctor is important as between you, you can create a game plan which may or may not include sleep medications.

Just remember that getting older does not mean you have to needlessly suffer from lack of sleep or rest. It is not normal, and you have to be proactive in your approach to solve the problem. Whether it is something as simple as a few lifestyle changes or something more major such as medications to induce sleep, you have choices available to you for getting that restful sleep you need.