Most healthy older adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to feel refreshed. But as you age, your quality of sleep may change. If you have trouble sleeping as an older adult, you are not alone. The “overall prevalence of insomnia symptoms ranges from 30% to 48%” in older adults. (1) Chronic fatigue and low energy from not sleeping may make it difficult to manage daily tasks and responsibilities. Let’s look at why you may find it harder to sleep as you get older and what you can do about poor sleep quality.

How Do Sleep Issues Look?

Maybe you have trouble falling asleep, or you pop awake at 3:30 AM, unable to fall back to sleep. Perhaps you even struggle to breathe while sleeping and find yourself waking up multiple times throughout the night gasping for air. Or, you could suffer from health issues like restless legs or an overactive brain.

Tossing and turning all night causes daytime exhaustion. Without good sleep, you may find yourself taking catnaps throughout each day. However, if you find your quality of sleep declining, there are answers to your struggles. 

Lifestyle Changes

As we age, our lives gradually slow down unless we actively pursue an active life. Retirement is often the beginning of a chance to take in more leisurely activities than before. It is easy to let life slip into a less organized routine without a daily schedule to adhere to and less day-to-day responsibility. Perhaps you stay up late watching shows and sleep in until 10 AM some days while others you are in bed snoring at 9 PM and alert at dawn. 

Changing up your schedule can confuse your body clock and make your sleep less restful. It may take longer to fall asleep if you don’t have a usual bedtime. Try setting up a firm bedtime and wake time if you struggle to fall asleep or wake up too early some mornings. A simple change in routine that gives structure can help your body respond in significant ways.

Medications and Alcohol

Lifestyle changes involving alcohol or prescription drugs can also interfere with your sleep. A correlation exists between excess intake of alcohol and poor sleep quality. Alcohol impacts sleep stages as a central nervous system depressant. Acting as a sedative, alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker but reduces your quality of sleep. You may even wake up feeling as though you did not sleep at all.

There is a reason your quality of sleep after drinking is poor. The depressant effect of alcohol impacts the length of time you spend in each stage of sleep. As the body metabolizes alcohol, these stages can be disrupted, creating imbalances throughout sleep. Your sleep may be restless with more movement, and you may wake up throughout the night uncomfortable and restless. 

Prescription medications often contribute to poor sleep quality also. The stimulant or depressant effects of any drug can set you up for disrupted sleep patterns. Almost 40% of Americans 65 years and older take 5 or more prescription medications. (2)  “Antihistamines and opiates may cause daytime drowsiness, while medications such as antidepressants and corticosteroids may keep older people awake and contribute to the symptoms of insomnia. The interactions of multiple medications may cause unanticipated effects on sleep.” (3)

If you think your medicines may contribute to your poor sleep quality, see your doctor to evaluate each medication and any side effects or interactions fully. 

Natural Aging Changes

As we age, our bodies sometimes produce less of the hormones needed for quality of life. Melatonin production may decrease as you age. This hormone helps coordinate your circadian rhythms, your internal clock, and the induction of sleep. 

If you watch TV or play on your phone at night, the light exposure may block your melatonin production. This is because your body produces melatonin when you experience darkness. Melatonin may also play other important roles in the body beyond sleep.

Trying a supplement containing melatonin may help you get to sleep and stay asleep longer. However, some find that melatonin causes side effects such as:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness

If you decide to try a new supplement, always start slow and consult your doctor to ensure it doesn’t react with the medications you already take.

Physical and Mental Health Issues

Physical and mental health issues can also affect your quality of sleep. According to the National Council on Aging,” older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Eighty percent have at least one chronic condition, and nearly 70% of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more.”

Pain or discomfort can keep you awake at night and often does for older adults with chronic health conditions. “24% of people between 65 and 84 years old reported being diagnosed with four or more health conditions. Those with multiple health conditions were more likely to report getting less than six hours of sleep, having poor sleep quality, and experiencing symptoms of a sleep disorder.” (3)

If your medical condition disrupts your sleep, let your doctor know about your sleep struggles. Sometimes a doctor can help you find a different medication that treats your condition but works better in your body and allows restful nights of sleep. 

We Can Help

As ENT specialists focusing on sleep disorders, including increased sleeping difficulties as you age, we understand your struggle to stay alert without restful sleep. We often find an underlying condition, such as snoring or sleep apnea, disturbs your vital sleep. Other times, we can adjust medication or help with lifestyle changes to bring about better sleep.

If you are waking up in the morning without feeling refreshed, there is hope. We are on the cutting edge of obstructive sleep apnea treatment with a new medical device that can replace a CPAP. If you struggle to sleep each night and don’t know why, contact us and find out how we can help.

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