Because this week has been declared Sleep Awareness Week by the National Sleep Foundation, we are highlighting their “Begin With Sleep” campaign. The purpose of Sleep Awareness Week is to inform people about the importance of good sleep health. During this week-long celebration, the NSF is providing information about the health benefits of sleep and how it affects overall well-being and safety.
According to the NSF’s Sleep in America, which was conducted in 2003, 44% of seniors experience one or more symptoms of insomnia at least once or twice per week. In fact, as we age, we are more likely to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
Whether it’s chronic insomnia lasting a month or longer, or acute insomnia, which lasts a shorter period of time, the condition is typically related to an underlying medical or psychiatric condition.
A recent study of older subjects, for example, reported that people who have trouble sleeping are more likely to be less physically active and have underlying medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, or cardiovascular disease, among others.
Additionally, seniors are more likely to take prescription medications that can make sleep difficult. These include certain blood pressure medications, antidepressants, H2 blockers for gastroesophageal reflux disease or peptic ulcers, corticosteroids for rheumatoid arthritis, and levodopa for Parkinson’s, among others.
For specific questions about how your medications might be affecting your sleep, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
The link between age and insomnia
It’s a commonly held myth that we need less sleep as we age. In fact, the ideal amount of sleep for seniors is the same as it is for younger adults – between seven and nine hours per night. While the connection between aging and sleep problems is not fully understood, it’s thought to be a combination of factors, such as:
- Lower melatonin levels. Some older adults produce less melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Produced mainly by the pineal gland, melatonin levels rise and fall with our natural circadian rhythms, peaking at night.
- Getting less exercise. Naturally, as we age, exercise becomes more difficult. Staying active, however, is known to improve sleep. Some seniors also may take naps during the day, making them less sleepy at bedtime.
- Too much time indoors. Natural sunlight helps regulate circadian rhythms, so for seniors who spend most of their time indoors, that cycle can be disrupted and the body may not be ready to sleep at bedtime.
- Excess caffeine consumption. Coffee and tea, as well as many sodas, contain caffeine, which is a stimulant that can easily reduce your desire to sleep.
The most common reason that older adults wake up in the middle of the night is to go to the bathroom. This can be aggravated in men who have prostate problems and women who have incontinence issues. And once they’re awake, there’s no guarantee that they will fall back to sleep easily.
Another primary cause of insomnia among seniors is chronic pain. That can include diabetic neuropathy, especially in the feet, as well as heartburn, arthritis, and menopause. That means treating these conditions can help reduce insomnia.
Occasionally waking up in the middle of the night is not uncommon. However, if a lack of sleep is resulting in serious side effects, such as an inability to function normally when awake, or complicating existing medical conditions, it’s time to ask your doctor about treatment options.
Several are available, both behavioral therapy and medications, which can vary depending on your specific condition. So, don’t suffer through night after night of insomnia. Get treatment and improve the quality of your life.