It’s a commonly held belief that aging causes sleep problems. The stereotypical image of an older adult nodding off at an inappropriate time is ingrained in our culture, but the reason for that drowsiness in not what people commonly think. The notion that seniors need more or less sleep than their younger counterparts is also a myth.
The real culprit behind these fallacies is the fact that those seniors are not getting enough sleep, or decent sleep, at night.
The reasons for this can be varied and often include one or more of the following: chronic pain, heart disease, respiratory illness, arthritis, medications, inactivity, depression, post-menopause, anxiety, and stress. The least important factor is age itself. Lack of sleep is merely the symptom in these cases, and it is treatment of the root cause that is required.
“So why not catch up on that missed sleep during the day?,” you might ask. Well, that’s not as effective as you might think. The Better Sleep Council released data back in 1994 on this topic, revealing that:
Losing sleep at night results in a 24-hour problem for older adults. When seniors don’t get the sleep they need at night, daytime drowsiness dulls the senses and saps energy, impairing the ability to perform normal activities — such as driving or concentrating on a task — and increasing the risk of having or causing accidents. Even catching up on lost sleep with daytime naps is risky. Daily naps can create a vicious cycle that disrupts normal sleep patterns, making it harder to sleep well at night. Sleep experts caution seniors to limit naps to 30 minutes or cut them out completely if they interfere with regular nighttime sleep. In fact, Dr. Donald Bliwise, Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Emory University Medical School, adds, ‘If excessive daytime sleepiness persists, it could signify a sleep disorder. Seniors should consult with their physicians.’
There are steps you can take to insure better chances of getting a good night’s rest. Here are a few of the ones recommended by About.com’s Senior Living section:
- Create a safe and comfortable sleeping environment. To help you fall asleep, your bedroom should be dark, with good ventilation, and as quiet as you can make it. For safety’s sake, make sure you have a good bedside lamp that is easy to reach, a telephone for emergencies, and working smoke alarms in your bedroom and all through the house.
- Follow your evening routine. Do the same things every night before you go to bed. Following a bedtime routine sends a silent signal to your brain and body that it is time to wind down and fall asleep.
- Your bed is for sleep or sex. Your bedroom is for sleeping or for romantic interludes. It’s not a media center, and not a home office. Avoid any distractions that make it harder to fall asleep.
Check out their entire list, it’s got lots of good advice. Additionally, there are many options for enhancing the comfort and safety of your sleeping area. From gel-top pillows to the natural-sound generators, there is a vast array of products aimed specifically at the troubled sleeper. A good night’s sleep is vital for good physical and emotional health no matter what your age.