How Does Aging Affect Sleep?

Sleep is a necessary mechanism in our body that helps us to relax or cool down our diurnal activities. However, as we age our sleep cycle also undergoes a lot of changes and at times people suffer from sleep disorders too. Sleep disorder is a phenomenon which disrupts the amount of sleep that we get and how well the cycle functions. The abnormal functioning of the sleep cycle has a multitude of reasons behind it. It could be lack of sleep due to stress anxiety or maybe a medical conditioning that does not allow one to have a peaceful sleep.

How Does Aging Affect Sleep?

How Does Aging Affect Sleep?

As people age they are burdened with a lot of responsibilities that increases the stress level of one’s life. This causes the sleep cycle to fluctuate. This fluctuation causes many more problems in life ranging from issues at the job front to relationship problems and at times even road accidents. The problem needs to be dealt with at the very grass root level otherwise it may lead to obesity, heart problems and diabetes. Hence as adults we must look into the symptoms of sleep disorders some of them being feeling sleepy during the day, tired mornings, and problem falling asleep. It could also be phases of troubled breathing during the night or snoring.

However, before discussing the sleep disorders associated with ageing it is important to get acquainted with the normal sleep cycle. A normal sleep cycle functions in two phases one being the rapid eye movement phase and the other being non-rapid eye movement phase. During the first mode of the sleeping cycle one gets 26% of normal sleep taking place over long periods that stretches till the mornings. The rest of the sleep undergoes various modes of light sleep and deep sleep. The sleep disorder messes up with the normal functioning of the sleep cycle. The sleep requirement of a person varies from person to person. Infants need around 16 hours of sleep while teenagers can do with 9 hours and adults need around 7 to 8 hours of good sleep. However, the number keeps fluctuating as we grow old and as a result of which the sleep cycle weakens.

Many of the adults are trying to juggle too many things all at once. They fail in a few things and succeed in a few. Rejection, frustration and sadness are a part of their diurnal activity. However this terribly affects their mental health. Due to the aforementioned reasons a lot of them find it difficult to sleep at night. They might as well stay in bed for long hours before falling asleep. Tendency to wake up early in the morning and not finding sleep later on are some of the few symptoms of insomnia.

  1. Insomnia

    Insomnia is often related to poor sleeping habits such as watching TV late into the night, drinking coffee in the afternoon or evenings or heavy smoking. Insomnia can also be treated with medication no matter what be the reason for it. However, research has shown that the medication given during insomnia, arising out of sleeping disorders causes sleeping problems. These problems could be over sleeping, difficulty getting out of bed and work problems. If you’re facing any of these problems after having taken medication then you must consult a doctor to adjust your treatment.

    These days insomnia is affecting everyone across all age groups. However, the most targeted age group are those in their mid 40’s or 50’. There could be a lot of medical factors responsible for the poor sleep functioning. For example if someone has arthritis or say thyroid problem then chances are that they might suffer from insomnia too. People who are a victim of asthma, breathing disorders and other neurological disorders fall prey to it.

    Insomnia can occur during pregnancy in women especially during the trimester phases. This problem may reoccur in women during menopause. Hot flushes seem to gush out their good night’s sleep. Research has shown that sleep disorders seem to occur in men and women over the age of 65. People working in the BPO’s and frequent fliers can also have circadian rhythm disorders. Due to shifting services a lot of us tend to sleep at odd hours of the day this messes up with our internal clock cycle.

  2. Sleep Apnea

    Sleep apnea is one of the major sleeping disorders that affect people as they age. It is a sleeping condition during, which people suffer from rapid breathing pauses. It causes a shift in their sleeping cycle from deep sleep to light sleep. These unnecessary interventions cause sleepiness during the day time. Many of the people suffering from it are unaware of it. Snoring could be understood as one of the early warning signs by their partners. Sleep apnea is a common phenomenon especially in females who are over the age of 66 and obese. It could also occur in young children who have large nostrils.

  3. RLS or Restless Leg Syndrome

    There are a few other unnatural sleeping disorders experienced by people as they age some of them being the restless legs syndrome. This means that those suffering from it have the tendency to move their legs frantically even while they are at rest. The problem takes a sharp turn during the night period and evening. This may cause trouble falling asleep. There are some other symptoms of this syndrome too which includes twitching motions in the body that causes the sleep to last for a short span of time. Such people have the tendency to wake up at brief intervals.

  4. Narcolepsy

    Narcolepsy is another such sleep disorder of the adult world. This causes a person to feel extremely sleepy during the day time despite having slept at night. A person might fall asleep all of a sudden without any warning creating havoc at the work place scenario. There are some other symptoms of this disorder too which includes unable to move when you wake up from sleep along with tense muscles. The sleep cycle of such people includes more of dreaming and less of deep sleep. The rapid eye movement is higher in such cases. One suffers from this dream like hallucinations in periods before falling asleep and once awake.

  5. Sleep Walking

    Sleep walking is commonly observed among old age people. People with this syndrome tend to get up from sleep and start walking as if they were awake. This sleep handicap occurs during the later stages of the non rapid eye movement stages and hence the person may indulge in a multitude of activities without staying awake. Sleep walkers don’t have their senses alert and therefore they wouldn’t communicate verbally with any passerby. They don’t even remember most of the things that they do while sleep walking. It’s completely erased from their memory. The sleep walking incidents have many hazards too including road accidents late at night.

    Many of us are of the opinion that these sleep disorders could be dealt at the individual level. Until the problem begins to affect the diurnal activity of a person it can be taken care of without consulting a doctor. However, if the sleep cycle seems to fluctuate more often than not some medical help should be asked for. Snoring at night or gasping during sleep should be some of the early warning signs. In case a medication is keeping you awake at night even that must be put forward before the doctor.

  6. Sleep Diary

    Making a sleep diary could help evaluate the sleep cycle deftly. The diary would include little information about the sleep cycle. For example the time when someone falls off to sleep, the time when they wake up, the food intake during the cycles, alcohol consumption or drug addiction if any observed over the period of two weeks. This will help someone to notice the variable changes that have occurred in the sleep cycle over this time period. Knowing a problem and acknowledging it definitely helps the diagnosis part.

  7. Meditation

    There are different means of correcting the irregular flow of the sleep water and getting it back to the normal cycle. Art of living is one such means of rectifying sleeplessness in the diurnal activity. Art of living is a therapeutic program which if adopted would bring about massive changes in our everyday life. Art of living program includes meditation that helps to soothe the soul and the mind. If the mind is healthy and at peace then combating sleep disorders won’t be a cumbersome task to manage. Everyday anxiety and stress seems unmanageable in the present day and era. However simple life hacks could help us to improve the quality of life that we are already living. Taking out 5 minutes every day to relax and meditate could work miracles in the days to come. Cognitive behavioral therapy could also be practiced to fight back sleep disorders.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 19, 2018

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