Insomnia and Aging: Symptoms, Causes and Tips to Beat It

The Symptoms and Risks of Insomnia

According to Mayo Clinic, insomnia is a disorder that causes difficulty sleeping, from having a hard time falling asleep to waking up too early and being unable to go back to bed. People with insomnia often feel tired when they wake up, and groggy and lethargic during the day. Other symptoms of insomnia may include irritability, depression, anxiety, difficulty focusing, making more errors or accidents, and worrying about sleep.

Many adults experience short-term insomnia from time to time, especially during stressful periods or after a traumatic event. But insomnia is considered long-term when it lasts more than a month, and the health risks associated with long-term insomnia can be serious. Hypertension, depression, heart attack and even greater risk for diabetes are all risks that may be associated with sleep loss and insomnia.

Insomnia and Aging

Many people believe that we need less sleep as we grow older, but that simply isn’t true. Research proves that our need for sleep remains the same as we age. However, our “sleep architecture,” — that is, the way we sleep — undergoes normal, healthy changes as we grow older. For example, our circadian rhythm changes as we age, causing us to feel sleepy earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.

However, sleep disturbances and a lack of sleep are not an inherent part of the aging process. So why is losing sleep so common in seniors? As we age, we’re more likely to experience some of the causes of sleep loss, particularly polypharmacy and comorbidity. In plain English, that means taking a variety of prescription medications and having multiple health issues at once makes us more likely to have trouble sleeping during our golden years.

According to one study, increased health issues may decrease the quality of our sleep. Among those aged 65 and older without multiple health problems, only 36% had a hard time sleeping. That increased to 52% among people with three concurrent illnesses, and 69% for those with four or more conditions.

Meanwhile, another recent survey of adults ages 62 to 88 showed that 88% used at least one prescription medication, 38% used over-the-counter medications and 64% used dietary supplements. Many medications can change the way we sleep, from making us restless to making us tired during the day. All of these factors combined can make seniors more likely to suffer from insomnia.

How Can Seniors Get Better Sleep?

If you think you may be suffering from insomnia, it’s important to discuss possible treatments with your doctor. In the meantime, there are a few tricks you can try to get some shut-eye.

  • Avoid taking naps during the day.

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule.

  • Try a relaxation technique such as a guided meditation or mindful breathing.

  • Limit caffeinated substances, nicotine and alcohol.

  • Exercise daily — but make sure to do it no later than six hours before bedtime.

  • Maintain the same wake-up time each morning.

  • Talk to a counselor if you’re feeling anxious or depressed.

  • Only use your bed for sleeping — no reading or watching TV.

  • Only use your bed when you feel sleepy.

  • If you can’t sleep, get up until you feel tired and are ready to try again.

Health & Wellness for Seniors

Looking for more info about how you can help catch higher-quality ZZZs? Check out these 10 senior-friendly tips for better sleep. And if you’ve got questions about Brookdale Senior Living communities, feel free to contact us anytime. 

The above content is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before beginning any exercise or fitness program or acting on any content on this website, especially if you have a medical condition. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.

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