Often people think of trouble sleeping as simply a part of growing older. It is not. The body does require less sleep as we age, but severe sleeping problems or insomnia in the elderly are the cause of poor sleep habits, side effects of medications, untreated sleep disorders or other medical conditions – and not a part of the normal aging process.
At any age, a good night’s sleep is important, but for seniors already facing the cognitive difficulties and weakened immune system that come with age, enough sleep is even more critical. Lack of sleep can affect concentration and memory, and suppress cell repair and the immune system. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that there is a direct relationship between general health and enough sleep in older people. According to the survey, the better the health of an older person, the better sleep they reported. The survey also said that respondents over 65 who reported seven to nine hours of sleep per night and experienced little or no sleep problems had more positive moods, and had more active and engaged lifestyles. On the other hand, the greater the number of diagnosed medical conditions, the more likely were the respondents to report sleep problems.
Causes of sleep problems in the elderly
There are many reasons our sleep patterns may change as we age. Some of the most common reasons for sleep problems or insomnia in the elderly are:
According to Dr. David N. Neubauer with the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore, Maryland, there are so many reasons that an elderly person may be experiencing insomnia that treatment needs to be individualized, based on a complete evaluation of a given patient. If a specific sleep disorder such as RLS or Sleep Apnea is determined to be the cause, there are treatments available. However, Dr. Neubauer suggests that in general, any elderly person experiencing sleep problems should implement good sleep habits and keep up daily physical activity to help create an environment conducive to restive sleep.
Other tips for better sleep include: