Why Good Sleep Gets Tougher with Age

If a good night's rest seems more and more out of reach with each passing birthday, you're not alone. Learn why good sleep gets tougher with age and try these tips to help ease the sleeping process.

There is a common misconception that inadequate sleep is paramount as we get older, though sufficient slumber is imperative throughout the entire lifespan.

However, sleep disturbances in the elderly make it tough to sleep the recommended seven to nine hours each night and poses greater risk of a number of health concerns.

Sleep in the Elderly: What Is Normal?

Unlike popular belief, a lesser amount of sleep is not a normal part of aging. In fact, people aged 18 years or older, including those over 60, require seven to nine hours of sleep each night according to the National Sleep Foundation.

And similar to younger adults, seniors still face the repercussions of inadequate and poor sleep, including a greater risk of excessive daytime sleepiness, attention and memory issues, depression, falls and injuries, diabetes, heart disease, overuse of over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids and eventually, a poorer quality of life.

Unfortunately, good sleep does get tougher. In fact, approximately 44 percent of seniors report insomnia, or the inability or difficulty of falling asleep or staying asleep, and most start to notice a shift in their sleeping patterns.

Why Good Sleep Gets Tougher with Age

Common sleep disturbances in the elderly come secondary to conditions seniors face more often, including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, urinary incontinence, and psychiatric conditions. Medications used to manage a number of health conditions can also lead to or exacerbate sleep issues in senior adults.

Compared to younger adults, seniors take longer time to fall asleep at night, fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier, and wake up frequently to sleep soundly throughout the night and known as sleep fragmentation.

Seniors with sleep fragmentation fail to sleep soundly throughout the night, causing them to miss out on deep, restorative sleep. Scientists at UC Berkeley have found this deficit, which is needed to preserve memories, may be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease related to beta-amyloid buildup.

Beta-amyloid is a protein fragment shown to build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The accumulation of beta-amyloid mostly interferes with the communication of nerve cells, posing the risk of compromised cognition.

William Jagust, a neuroscientist and professor apart of the Berkeley research, suggests “Our study shows that this beta-amyloid deposition may lead to a vicious cycle in which sleep is further disturbed and memory impaired.”

But, “This discovery offers hope,” states Matthew Walker, UC Berkeley neuroscience professor and senior author of the study. “Sleep could be a novel therapeutic target for fighting back against memory impairment in older adults and even those with dementia.”

Easing the Sleep Process

There is no denying getting sound sleep is essential to mitigate against health conditions and improve overall quality of life. While getting sound sleep is tough for many seniors, these tips can help ease the sleeping process:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up at a set time on a consistent basis.
  • Exercise and be active throughout the day.
  • Avoid caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime, along with nicotine and alcohol.
  • Rethink naps or at least do not take them for longer than 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Quiet the mind at night by reading a book or listening to relaxing muscle.
  • Disconnect from electronics, as the blue light can inhibit the natural sleep cycle.
  • Practicing mindfulness can help improve sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults, suggests a study published JAMA Internal Medicine.
  • Talk to a doctor if experiencing sleep disturbances, as they can help determine any underlying causes of inadequate sleep and develop a plan to improve slumber on a regular basis.