As one approaches their golden years, they may experience sleep problems previously unfamiliar to them, prompting the question of whether aging affects sleep. The answer to this is yes! In fact, aging affects sleep in various ways that contribute to your overall wellness.
Relationship Between Sleep and Age
In discussions about sleep schedules, we usually hear about the concept of a “body clock”. Your body clock is not just a figure of speech, it’s a real part of your brain called the hypolathamus, powered by a nucleus known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus(SCN). As you age, your SCN ages too, deteriorating and causing changes in your sleep patterns due to a lower-functioning body clock. Your circadian rhythms become disrupted, which can affect when you feel awake or sleepy.
Furthermore, older adults naturally generate fewer sleep-promoting hormones as they age. This leads to decreased sleep quality, sleep disturbances, and other sleep-related issues.
Aging-associated Sleep Problems
40-70% of older adults experience chronic sleep problems that can lead to a long-term impact on their overall health and well-being in the long run. Such examples of sleep disturbances often experienced by the elderly include:
- Sleep schedule moving forward: Your circadian rhythms not only become disrupted as you age, but they can even shift forward in time. This shift forward in sleep schedule is known as a “phase advance”. If you find yourself feeling tired sooner in the day and waking up earlier in the morning, you could be experiencing a phase advance.
- Waking up at night: Many older adults find themselves having less restful sleep as the days go by, which is due to them having longer stages of light sleep, and shorter stages of deep sleep, which is the stage in which you recharge your energy the most effectively.
- Daytime napping: Older adults are statistically more likely to take naps in the daytime compared to their younger counterparts, due to the fatigue that they experience in the daytime caused by sleep deficiencies.
- Longer recovery from changes in sleep schedule: Compared to how younger adults can return to their regular sleep schedule with ease during occasions such as daylight savings time, older adults experience more difficulty in recovering and reverting to their sleep schedules after such sudden changes.
How Can an Aging Adult Get a Good Night’s Rest?
Such sleep problems can lead to severe sleep disorders that have severe health consequences, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and restless leg syndrome (RLS). Hence, an aging adult needs to get a good night’s rest. A key factor to older adults having more restful sleep is exercise, as sufficient exercise increases your body’s melatonin production in the nighttime, allowing your body to fall asleep more easily, and enjoy higher-quality slumbers. Furthermore, it’s also advised for older adults to avoid substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, as they can lead to challenges in sleeping as well as other health concerns intake of such substances can cause.
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