Aging & Sleep - Sleep Tips For The Wise
Among the most pervasive myths about aging is the idea that older – ahem, wiser – adults need less sleep than their younger selves. Hand in hand with this falsehood is a misleading picture of aging, wherein daytime tiredness and compulsive napping is just a regular part of life.
In fact, like younger adults, people in their advanced years need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. However, it’s true that the elderly tend to face more barriers to healthy sleep, thanks to age-related changes. Since the myth persists, many of these conditions go undiagnosed, and chronic sleep problems are often written off as a consequence of getting older.
No one should have to live their golden years plagued by the myriad problems caused by sleep deprivation. Persistent fatigue and a difficulty staying awake are not normal at any age, and the belief that they are can be a significant barrier to older adults who might otherwise seek help.
There are two main reasons why deep, restful sleep can be harder to achieve for the elderly. The first is an increase in the prevalence of underlying conditions that can interfere with sleep, like chronic pain, arthritis, sleep apnea, and heartburn, as well as psychological problems like depression, which is underdiagnosed and undertreated in the senior population. These and many other conditions can enter a vicious cycle with poor sleep, where one exacerbates the other, so it’s important to seek professional help. Most of these conditions are very treatable.
In addition to underlying illnesses, a gradual decline in melatonin – an important sleep-inducing hormone – can affect sleep quality and duration. Sleep hygiene, a practice we’ve expounded on before, is important at any age, but especially for the elderly. Managing your Circadian rhythms by maintaining a relaxing sleep routine, avoiding electronics at night, and having sufficient daytime light exposure will help counterbalance an age-related drop in melatonin. Supplementation may also be an option to discuss with your health professional.
The take-home point here is that there’s no reason to take sleep issues lying down (pun intended) at any age. Living joyfully and actively well into old age is absolutely possible, and as with any stage of life, sleep is a crucial piece of that puzzle. Encourage your older loved ones to seek help for sleep issues when they arise, and take the same care of yourself.