Dispelling the Myths About Aging and Sleep

Updated on September 25, 2014

By Rob Brough.  Co-CEO & CMO Classic Sleepcare LLC

As we age, many of us seem to have more trouble getting to sleep. Some of us snap awake at 2AM and can’t fall back asleep. At first, we might think we’re just going through a rough patch. We give up caffeine in an attempt to recapture a good nights’ sleep – – but we end up groggy and cranky throughout the day and still can’t sleep through the night. We recall, with great envy, those teenage years when we could sleep until noon on the weekends. After months of sleeping only a few hours a night, we decide we’re just getting old. We conclude that our “8 hours of sleep” nights are behind us and we might as well get used to the early bird breakfast specials at the local diner.

What if this sleep issue isn’t part of the natural aging process?  It might be a surprise to learn that while the amount of sleep an individual needs does change with age, the fact is older adults need the same amount of sleep as young adults, 7 to 9 hours a day.  If you are suffering from a lack of sleep or from disturbed sleep, it is not because of the normal aging process.  Despite the myth, old age is not the culprit.

There are a few common reasons for older adults to miss out on the sleep needed to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle:

Pain.  If you are sick and in pain then you will have difficulty falling and staying asleep. 

Lack of exercise.  Exercise is critical for health and well-being.  Many of us stop exercising completely as we age and start ‘slowing down.’ 

Medication.  As we age we are much more likely to be on prescription medications, some of which interfere with sleep.  

Napping.  If we don’t get enough sleep we feel the affects during the day.  Taking a nap to catch up on the sleep we need is common in these circumstances.  But this can lead to a change in circadian rhythm (your internal body clock), reducing your need for sleep at night.

Underlying medical disorder.  Many sleep problems are the result of a serious underlying medical disorder. 

Insomnia.  All of the above can contribute to insomnia.  And research has shown that sleep apnea has been responsible for more than 50% of insomnia cases.  

If you are not sleeping, then your lifestyle will be impacted very quickly. You are going to wake up feeling exhausted and easily irritable, as you simply are not getting enough REM sleep (what is known as restorative sleep, the stage of the sleep cycle during which your body is rejuvenated).  You may find yourself eating high-calorie, high fat, sugar laden ‘comfort’ foods attempting to make yourself feel better. This might be during the middle of the night. You may reach for the comfort food out of sheer boredom. This behavior can easily pack on the unwanted pounds. Of course, if you’re tired from the lack of sleep and embarrassed by the extra weight, you will exercise and socialize less. It’s a vicious cycle that can be very hard to break.

So what can you do to get a good night’s sleep?

Maintain a schedule.  Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.  Stop napping.

Prepare for sleep.  Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and the temperature is cool.  Remove all electronics (no watching TV in bed!).

Exercise every day.  Get some sun.  Start with 5 minutes a day (if that’s all you can do) and increase slowly over time.  Consult your doctor and remember, moderation based on your physical condition is key.

Talk with your doctor.  Ask about changing the dose of medication, changing to another medication or the timing you take medication.  Get checked for an underlying medical problem, especially for sleep-disordered breathing.  Obstructive sleep apnea, a disease that is most common in older people is a common cause for lack of restorative sleep.

If you follow these tips, you can find yourself getting your full 8 hours of sleep again, which will greatly improve your lifestyle and level of happiness.

About the Author:

Rob Brough is CEO and CMO of Classic Sleepcare LLC.  Classic Sleepcare is a sleep wellness with operations in 29 states company that works solely with sleep apnea patients prescribed positive airway pressure therapy for treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.  www.classicsleepcare.com


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