Sleep Patterns and Aging
Jeannette Franks, PhD
It will come as no surprise to anyone over 60 that sleep changes with age and it does not change for the better. There is a reason why some people can ‘sleep like a baby’. It’s because they are babies!
According to a recent article in The American Family Physician journal, “Up to 40 percent of older adults have insomnia, with trouble falling asleep, early awakening, or feeling tired on awakening (Feb. 14, 2013 Vol 87, No 4).”
While individual sleep needs vary, we know how we feel if we don’t get enough sleep. There’s a reason why intentional sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture. Insufficient sleep affects mood, ability to think, and possibly even the immune system.
One concept that can be useful is the notion of ‘sleep hygiene’. Here are some sleep tips from the US Center for Diseases Control (CDC) as well as a few of my own recommendations:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.
- Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot nor too cold.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for intimacy and sleeping, rather than other activities, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music. Ban the laptop, TV, and smartphone from the bedroom.
- Exercise may help promote sleep, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
- Avoid large meals and alcohol before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine after mid-day.
Sleep disruptions can be associated with dementia in the elderly. Sometimes the sleep/wake cycle is completely out of whack and the person sleeps all day and wants to wander at night. In the right environment, this is fine. As long as it doesn’t disturb others, there’s no reason why someone can’t be awake all night and asleep all day.
A recent report at the annual regional Alzheimer’s Conference found that not getting sufficient sleep (7 to 8 hours) is a predictor of dementia. It may be a chicken/egg situation, but I’ll do almost anything to get the minimum of 7 hours sleep.
Another large study reported at the April 7 day-long conference was that those who performed cardio exercise for 30 to 40 minutes 5 times a week had a lower incidence of dementia compared to a control group who were told to stretch.
Sleep medications can be harmful, especially in older people. Consult your physician and limit their use to no more than once a week, otherwise there can be a rebound effect where without the drugs, insomnia worsens.
Sleep medications can have negative effects such as problems thinking, negative interactions with other medications, and increased risk of falls and fractures. If at all possible, a long walk in the great outdoors is one of the best possible remedies.