It’s common for older adults to develop changes in the quality and duration of sleep as they age. Unfortunately, poor sleep can contribute to many health concerns and reduce the quality of life for older adults. Our brain controls our 24-hour daily cycles, also known as circadian rhythm. According to the Sleep Foundation, this influences when we feel hungry, tired, and alert, and when our bodies release certain hormones. As we get older, natural changes to the brain can disrupt our circadian rhythms, making it more difficult to get good quality sleep. As the area of our brain responsible for controlling our circadian rhythm deteriorates, we may notice changes in our sleep cycles, which ultimately affect our ability to repair and replenish our bodies.
How Aging Influences Our Sleep
The idea that older adults need less sleep to function properly is a common misconception. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, older adults need 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night, the same amount needed for younger adults. However, older adults tend to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier as they age. A lack of sleep can cause irritability, problems with short-term memory, feelings of depression, and an increased risk of falling. According to the Sleep Foundation, older adults may experience one or more of these common changes in sleeping patterns as they age:
- Shifting sleep schedule: As we age, our circadian rhythms age as well, causing older adults to feel tired earlier in the afternoon and wake up earlier in the morning.
- Waking up at night: According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep occurs in five stages, with each sleep progressing more deeply. However, as we get older, more time is spent in the lighter sleep stages, which can contribute to waking up more often during the night. This can result in less restful sleep and feeling tired upon waking.
- Longer recovery: Changes in our sleep schedules make it more difficult for our circadian rhythm to regulate, especially as we age. This means that sudden changes in sleep schedules, such as jet lag or daylight saving time, can have a more severe effect on our quality of sleep as we get older.
- Napping: According to the National Library of Medicine, 25 percent of older adults take daytime naps compared to 8 percent of younger adults. Experts agree that extending daytime napping can make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep during the nighttime.
- Increased urination. Nighttime urination increases with age. The Sleep Foundation reports that nearly 80 percent of older adults experience an increased sensation of urination during sleep cycles at night, which often contributes to increased sleep disturbances.
Tips for Restful Sleep
Having a safe and restful place to sleep can ensure high-quality rest, especially for older adults. It’s especially helpful to do your best to create a comfortable environment that is devoid of fall hazards and distractions to set yourself up for restful sleep. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help promote overall wellness, but it can also help promote feelings of tiredness at bedtime. Exercising, especially when done outside, can help regulate our circadian rhythm ensuring a good night’s sleep.
- Reduce distractions. Screens, especially telephones, smartphones, and bright lights can make it difficult to fall asleep. Keeping these out of the bedroom can make falling asleep much easier. However, older adults need to have a way to contact emergency events in times of crisis, especially if a fall or sickness occurs. Experts agree keeping an emergency pendant or landline phone programmed with important numbers by your bedside is an important safety measure for older adults.
- Avoid certain substances. Some substances like tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, and large meals can make falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult. It’s important to reduce caffeine and alcohol intake at least four hours before bedtime to ensure a restful nighttime sleep.
- Ensure good lighting. Older adults often suffer from frequent nighttime urination, which can increase the risk of falling. Walkways from the bedroom to the bathroom should be clear of common fall hazards such as area rugs, dressers, or other items. In addition, older adults should place night lights or lamps in these spaces to ensure proper lighting. Walking aids, such as walkers and canes, should also be placed close to the bed.
Practicing Safe Sleep for Older Adults
Many potential hazards increase the risk of falling or tripping, especially in the bedroom. All potential risks must be removed from the bedroom to create a safe space for sleep. You might consider implementing the following tips to ensure you’re safety while sleeping:
- Remove area rugs
- Never smoke in or near your bed
- Remove clothing and shoes on the floor
- Hide electrical and phone cables
- Have a lamp within reach that is easy to operate, or opt for a nightlight
- Place a glass of water next to the bed in case you get thirsty
- Keep a telephone programmed with important numbers close to your bed
Sleep Safety at Maplewood Senior Living
Good quality sleep gives our bodies a chance to recover from the day’s activities and promotes overall good health. Poor sleep can make us feel drowsy and leave us at risk of illness and other health problems. At Maplewood Senior Living, we give our residents the tools they need for quality sleep, including a robust medical staff, exercise programs, and tips for safety in the home. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.