How Seniors Can Sleep Better for a Healthier Life
There are a lot of ways the body changes as we age. After a person turns 60, the skin becomes thinner, food starts to taste different, and you’ll find that you’re slowing down. These kinds of transformations can be expected. However, one physical change some people fail to foresee is a shift in their circadian rhythm. As sleep patterns and habits change with age, seniors may have difficulty falling asleep, wake up frequently throughout the night, and get fewer hours of quality sleep.
Senior Sleep Disorders and Causes
For many seniors, an existing health issue can cause problems for their sleep on top of any other physical or mental symptoms. Not only do certain conditions affect sleep quality, but they lead to people adopting a less active lifestyle, which impacts sleep as well. Illnesses including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, heart disease, respiratory disease, and a weak bladder can make it difficult for seniors to fall asleep and stay that way through the night. Also, the medications a senior takes to manage these conditions can also cause sleep issues.
Mental conditions like dementia, depression, and anxiety — and the medications taken to treat them — can also contribute to sleep disorders.
When we think of sleep disorders, we often default to insomnia, which is a term used to define a chronic difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep without disruption. Insomnia is both a symptom and a disorder. Seniors may experience insomnia as a result of other sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement, and REM behavior disorder. To diagnose a primary sleep disorder, a physician will conduct a polysomnogram, also known as a sleep study. While Medicare will pay for “medically necessary” sleep disorder testing, you might need to consider a Medicare Supplement plan to ensure you have coverage, particularly if you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Sleep Deprivation and Its Impact on Senior Health
The body needs daily rest to operate at its optimal level. Failing to get that rest affects the body from head to toe. First and foremost, the brain cannot function when it is tired. Seniors with sleep disorders experience difficulties with both short- and long-term memory. The next day, they will also have troubles with thinking and concentration. Sleep deprivation also makes it more difficult to control emotions, and over time, seniors can develop mental health issues including depression and anxiety.
When seniors do not get sufficient sleep, they are at a greater risk of developing other health problems. Too little sleep weakens the immune system making it more difficult for the body to defend itself from bacterial and viral infections. Sleep deprivation also raises blood pressure and causes inflammation, which can have a damaging effect on the cardiovascular system. Furthermore, when the body is tired it has more difficulty finding balance, leaving seniors at greater risk for falls, which can have devastating effects on a senior’s health.
Tips for Better Sleep
● Create a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep. Use soft lighting, keep it cool with a fan, outfit your bed with breathable linens, and consider getting a white noise machine to block out noise..
● Create a set sleep schedule. An hour or so before it is time to go to bed, turn off blue light-emitting electronics that can disrupt neurotransmitters that enable sleep. Come up with a set of bedtime rituals that help signal to your body that it is time to sleep.
● Try using melatonin supplements to make it easier to fall asleep. Magnesium is another great supplement for promoting sleep and may even help symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Always talk to a doctor before adding supplements to your routine.
● Avoid food and drink that can disrupt sleep. Heavy, greasy, and spicy foods can cause indigestion. Caffeine can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Alcohol may make you drowsy at first, but it causes a spike in blood sugar that can wake up the body in the middle of the night.
● Exercise every day. Being physically active expels energy so you don’t have too much pent up at night.
Among the many changes seniors experience after they turn 60, one of the most persistent is trouble with sleep. Changes in circadian rhythm as well as co-existing health problems can make it more difficult for seniors to fall asleep and stay asleep. Other disorders like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea may develop in senior years. At Ascension Health Homes, staff not only monitors physical changes, sleep patterns and habits but also follows the “tips for better sleep.” In addition, when there are serious sleep concerns, staff works with their primary care physicians for solutions. Contact us to set up a tour to learn more about the care and services Ascension Health Homes provide.