Getting older is associated with changing sleep patterns that lead to reduced stages of restful sleep as well as increasing periods of wakefulness. Sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea also increase with age. Identifying and managing sleep disturbances are important because a lack of sleep can contribute to depression, memory impairment and physical illnesses.
Until recently, the health consequences of sleep deprivation were not fully appreciated. Now we know that over half of all older adults complain of significant sleep disturbance and that these disturbances can have serious health consequences.
How Poor Sleep Can Affect You
- Forty percent of people with longterm insomnia also have a psychiatric problem like an anxiety disorder
- Insomnia may be a risk factor for depression, which can have serious consequences among seniors
- Not getting enough sleep may contribute to developing diabetes
- Sleep apnea in the elderly is related to a decrease in blood supply to the heart and brain and decreased mental function
What You Can Do
There are many non-drug treatments for getting better sleep. Try these strategies instead of over-the-counter or prescription medications:
- Make your bedroom and bed comfortable and welcoming; items like a cushiony mattress pad, a cervical or other specialty pillow and a light blanket (rather than a weighty comforter) may help
- Stick to a regular sleep and wake schedule—same time for both every night and day
- Cut down on alcohol and caffeine consumption, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime
- Get more exercise, just not in the hours leading up to bedtime