September 29, 2009
How Your Sleep Changes Over Time
With age comes wisdom, they say. But unfortunately, it also comes with tossing and turning.
As your body ages beyond your mid-life years, it starts to experience numerous changes. In relation to sleep, one of the most profound changes is in the patterns in which you sleep. You spend more time in the light stages of slumber than the deeper ones. Medical mumbo jumbo aside, that translates into nights of staring at the ceiling trying to doze off, as well as opportunities to become all too familiar with what your bedroom looks like at two o’clock…and three o’clock…and four o’clock in the morning.
Another change that comes with each additional candle on your cake relates to your circadian rhythms — the clock the body runs on to time its functions. That night owl
in you may suddenly switch to an early bird, and you may be dozing off before the evening news is even a glimmer.
Researchers have also tied sleep difficulties to various physical and mental health conditions — Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and others — that are predominant in older individuals. A reduced production in the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and increased sensitivity to things in one’s environment (like noise) have also been proposed to have an impact.
Some have hinted that older adults get less sleep because their bodies don’t require as much as they once did. Not so, according to the National Institute on Aging, which says that they need 7 to 9 hours sleep each night — the same amount recommended for them when they were in their younger adult years.
Seems like our bodies sort of turn against us. In a way, yes. But some issues that contribute to sleep difficulties — you know, the ones that seemed to pop out of thin air right around the time you got your AARP card — may be able to be dealt with so that your nights are a bit sounder.
First, practice habits that will contribute to sounder sleep:
-Avoid activity close to bedtime
-Keep your bedroom quiet, cool and dark
-Make sure you’re resting on a comfortable mattress
Talk to your health care provider if any of the following apply to you:
-If you’re on prescribed medications, be vocal about your sleep difficulties with your doctor. A medication change or dose alteration may help. (Of course, do not stop or change without consulting your MD first.)
-If you’re aware that you snore, mention it to your physician. It’s a classic symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — when the muscles in the throat briefly close, causing short periods of no breathing. These alert your brain and wake you up. (Being overweight puts you at increased risk for OSA, as does age.) Treatment is available.
-An untamable movement of your legs, which can be paired with odd feeling (like something is crawling up your limb), is restless legs syndrome (RLS). It, too, is more common in aging adults. Lifestyle changes, iron supplementation or medications may be recommended for you, if you’re experiencing this concern.
-If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — which is characterized by pain in the chest, throat irritation, and heartburn — follow your doctor’s directions to keep it under control. Yes, that includes dietary restrictions. The pain can be a source of your awakenings.
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