Exploring the Reasons Why Older Adults Sleep More
Older adults tend to sleep more than younger individuals. Many of us have a parent or grandparent that can’t seem to stay awake for very long after dinner or lay down for a quick snooze in the middle of the day.
There are various theories as to why older adults require more sleep. Regardless of the specific cause, however, it is important to ensure elderly loved ones are getting sufficient restorative sleep every night to maintain optimal health and well-being.
Why Do Older People Sleep So Much?
Older adults often spend more time sleeping than younger adults for a variety of reasons. Our bodies change as we get older, and our sleep patterns often change as a result.
Sometimes, an elderly person may not be getting quite as much sleep as it might first appear. The person might be tired and retire to bed, but their quantity and quality of sleep often decline.
In fact, studies suggest that men, on average, sleep 27 minutes less with every decade of their age until their 80s. Because older people get less sleep, they are more likely to be tired throughout the day and take more naps.
Changes in hormones
As we age, our bodies produce less melatonin and cortisol, making it harder to fall asleep naturally at night and stay awake during the day. Melatonin is typically produced when a person is exposed to darkness to help them sleep during the evening. With lower levels of melatonin, older individuals may not sleep as well.
Reduced physical activity
For many seniors, an inactive lifestyle can lead to feelings of sleepiness. As we age, our bodies undergo physical and physiological changes which often result in a decrease in energy levels and activity. This, combined with spending long hours indoors, can make it difficult to stay alert during the day.
Disrupted circadian rhythm
Seniors typically have less sunlight exposure throughout the day, which can disrupt circadian rhythms. A person’s circadian rhythm helps them sleep at night and feel awake and alert during the day. A circadian rhythm, or 24-hour cycle, regulates many of our body’s processes and sets the timing for everything from our sleep to our hunger patterns.
When this cycle is disrupted, even for those who are young and healthy, it can have noticeable effects such as sleep disturbances and decreased energy levels. However, for older adults, this disruption can be far more severe. Disrupted rhythms can have a huge impact on their overall health, leading to chronic fatigue, lowered immunity, and impaired mental functioning. By increasing awareness about the circadian rhythm and its impacts on senior citizens, we can help ensure that elderly individuals stay healthier and happier as they age.
Seniors may suffer from mental conditions like depression or anxiety. These issues can cause sleeplessness. Similarly, physical problems can cause pain that interferes with sleep. An older person might not get quality sleep due to arthritis or heart disease.
Older people often take one or more medications each day. These medications come with a range of side effects which can include sleeplessness. Seniors should check with their physicians about any potential sleep disturbances their medications may cause.
An individual’s lifestyle might change with age due to fewer work responsibilities or retirement-related activities. These changes can create a natural surge in nighttime sleepiness that could be further supplemented by other medical conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis.
How Much Sleep Do Older People Need?
Many people aren’t aware that the elderly need the same amount of sleep as younger adults. It’s recommended that seniors get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you find you’re getting more or less of this recommended amount of sleep, you’re more prone to sleepiness throughout the day.
Effects of Getting Too Little Sleep
No one feels great after a night of poor sleep. When a person doesn’t get quality sleep over a long period of time, they can experience detrimental effects. These can include:
- Balance issues
- Cognitive difficulties
People who regularly get too little sleep may have a sleep disorder such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or restless legs syndrome.
Tips for Getting Better Sleep at Night
In order to ensure they’re getting enough restful sleep each night, older adults should establish a routine and create a comfortable sleep environment. This routine may include regulating their exposure to light and sound or investing in supportive bedding like pillows and mattresses designed specifically for elderly individuals. Taking steps such as these can allow older adults to maximize the quality of their restorative sleep and alleviate the issue of excessive fatigue during the day.
Addition tips include:
Getting more exercise
To combat these feelings of lethargy, seniors should incorporate light exercise into their daily routines. Simple activities like walking or yoga can increase blood circulation and help offset the effects of drowsiness. Additionally, getting enough natural daylight throughout the day is essential for improving your alertness as well as your overall well-being. Making just small changes to your lifestyle can help you stay energized and engaged well into old age.
Sleeping at the right time
Refrain from napping too late in the day. If you fall asleep in the afternoon, you’ll likely have a harder time sleeping at night. Try not to nap, but if you find you need one, make sure it’s earlier in the day. Investing in quality blackout curtains can block out the sun and help you stay asleep longer in the morning.
Most of us know we should limit our screen time for a variety of reasons. A good night’s sleep is just one of those reasons. Set a reminder to put away your electronics each evening well before the time you plan to go to sleep. The light emitted from TVs, phones, and computers can disrupt your sleep, so it’s best to stop using them early in the evening.
Older people may seem to sleep more, but this isn’t always the case. It’s not unusual for seniors to experience poorer sleep than younger adults. Their disrupted nighttime sleep cycle can lead to daytime drowsiness and napping, habits that can give the appearance of excessive sleep. Speak with your doctor if are experiencing sleep difficulties to ensure you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
- “Aging and Sleep,” Sleep Foundation, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/aging-and-sleep
- “Normal and Abnormal Sleep in the Elderly,” National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3142094/
- “Aging Changes in Sleep,” MedlinePlus, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004018.htm
- “A Good Night’s Sleep,” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep#:~:text=Older%20adults%20need%20about%20the,get%20enough%20sleep%20at%20night.
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