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Sleep Problems Associated with Aging

As people age, their sleep patterns often undergo subtle if not dramatic change, not always just because of the chronological clock that is ticking.

In general, older people experience more fragmented sleep and spend less time in deep (stages 3 and 4) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is often the residue of other physical and psychological problems for which they are being treated (after all, with aging often come health issues).

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF):

Studies on the sleep habits of older Americans show an increase in the time it takes to fall asleep (sleep latency), an overall decline in REM sleep, and an increase in sleep fragmentation (waking up during the night) with age. The prevalence of sleep disorders also tends to increase with age. However, research suggests that much of the sleep disturbance among the elderly can be attributed to physical and psychiatric illnesses and the medications used to treat them.

In addition to medications to treat physical and psychological problems, older Americans may also experience a lot of downtime associated with retirement, and downtime can mean fitful patterns of napping and sleeping.

Older adults can also undergo advanced sleep phase syndrome, which affects their circadian rhythm. They still sleep seven to eight hours, but they fall asleep earlier (say 7 p.m. or so) and then wake up in the wee hours with nothing to do. They may be rested, but they’re up before the roosters, so to speak.

Nearly half of America’s seniors also report problems with insomnia — the mere act of falling asleep and staying asleep. Also, age also can mean packing on extra pounds, and being overweight or obese can bring on sleep issues such as snoring and even sleep apnea.

Is there a preventative potion or onset cure for old-age sleep problems? In general, it’s the same as for young people: Follow good sleep hygiene principles, watch your weight and moderate when and what you eat and drink. Late meals and caffeine and alcohol can wreak havoc on sleep.

As always, whatever your age, you need good, restorative sleep, so if you’re experiencing sleep disruptions or other problems, you need to seek professional help. Continuing in your old habits won’t solve your problem, so place that call today to make an appointment with your family physician or a sleep professional.

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