As we grow older, it is normal to develop difficulties sleeping. This can include problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or falling into a deep sleep. It can also mean waking up earlier in the morning and needing to go to sleep earlier in the evening. Actually… Eight hours is generally the golden number for how much sleep you should be getting each night but, with age, this number can be harder to obtain. Suppose you or a loved one is suffering from severely impaired sleep. In that case, you may want to consider reaching out to your family doctor or to compassionate home care services to help regulate your sleep and ensure there isn’t a more serious underlying issue. Getting enough quality sleep is a vital part of living a healthy lifestyle, and understanding how sleep can change with age is important in order to promote a healthy sleep schedule. Let’s look into what causes sleep difficulties, the adverse effects a lack of sleep can have on one’s health, and how to improve your sleep. Why Does Age Affect Sleep Quality? Changes in sleep quality are normal with age for various reasons. In fact, around half of people over the age of 65 claim to struggle with a sleep-related problem. One reason why age affects sleep is due to changes in how our bodies produce certain hormones like melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin regulates sleep-wake cycles, essentially telling your body when it should be awake and when it’s time to sleep. On the other hand, cortisol is the primary stress hormone that works to control mood and motivation, and it also plays a role in controlling the body’s sleep-wake cycles. As we age, the body produces less of these hormones naturally which can negatively affect our ability to get quality sleep. Another major factor that affects sleep quality in older adults is nocturia or frequent urination. Because of changes to the urinary system as we age, older people typically need to urinate more frequently. Having to get up throughout the night can disrupt your sleep cycle, and it can be difficult to fall back asleep. Adverse Effects From A Lack Of Sleep Not getting enough sleep can cause problems that go beyond simply being tired the next day. When a person doesn’t get enough sleep, the brain and body cannot function as usual because the chemical balance in the brain is thrown off and the body has not had time to heal itself. There are several severe implications that can result from a lack of sleep including high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, weight gain, depression, and a weakened immune system. More common problems that can arise as a result of a lack of sleep include memory issues, lack of concentration, and mood changes. Fatigue can also lead to more accidents for seniors. Being tired and drowsy during the day can make it easier for seniors to slip and fall, and this is extremely dangerous as even a minor fall for a senior can cause serious damage. How To Prevent Sleep Difficulties Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep can be extremely frustrating. Luckily, there are things you can do to promote a healthier sleep schedule. Get regular daily exercise Avoid napping, especially in the mid-to late-afternoon Establish a routine of going to sleep and waking up at the same time Spend some time outside every day Avoid caffeine for at least 3 hours before bed Try reading before bed instead of watching TV If you are taking any medications, it may also be a good idea to talk to your doctor to see if any of your medications are affecting your sleep. Common Sleep Disorders While occasional difficulty falling asleep may be frustrating, it is generally not a cause for concern. However, if symptoms progress beyond having a few restless nights, something else may be going on. Here are a few common sleep disorders to look out for. Insomnia Regular difficulties falling and staying asleep turn into insomnia when the problems are persistent. While a few difficult nights here and there is normal, nightly difficulty sleeping is not. Sleep Apnea Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes abnormal breathing patterns while sleeping. This can cause people to snore loudly or stop breathing for upwards of 30 seconds at a time. Once the individual starts breathing again, they often gasp to get in enough air, causing them to wake up. This cycle can repeat throughout the whole night, making for a very disrupted sleep. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Restless legs syndrome causes pain or discomfort in the legs when sitting or lying down. This condition typically becomes worse with age, and symptoms are generally heightening in the evening. The pain and discomfort can make it difficult to keep your legs still and thus can make it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep.