Sleeping Changes as You Age

As you age, your sleep patterns do tend to change, though the amount of sleep the human body needs for rejuvenation doesn’t vary that much. Whereas in younger years, you might need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, in your senior years, the total may shrink a half notch to 6.5 total hours.

What really changes is that you might find it harder to fall asleep and then also harder to stay asleep. Many seniors report that they are “light sleepers” as opposed to when they were younger and could zonk out like a rock, so to speak.

Deep, dreamless sleep also becomes less frequent, and many seniors report awakening three or four times a night. The frequent awakenings are caused by the lack of deep sleep and are also often associated with the need to urinate (nocturia), anxiety and physical pain.

These late-age sleep patterns are seldom dangerous, however, unless associated with a true sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, which is characterized by repeated cessation of breathing while asleep.

Sleep deprivation can lead to mental changes and even depression at any age and even more so in one’s senior years. So you should seek help if your sleep difficulties are leading to undesired changes in your waking hours. Sleeping problems are treatable, and you should never hesitate to seek help at any age.

Good sleep hygiene, while important at any age, becomes even more crucial in one’s senior years. Make sure the bedroom is used only for sleep, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and heavy foods before retiring. Sometimes an antihistamine can help getting to sleep and staying there, but doctors often recommend against this — and against even more potent sleeping medications.

In any event, you should seek the help of your family physician if you have problems sleeping at any age.

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