Waiting for God

Sleep and Aging

Man sleeping

Regardless of age, sleep is key for memory and cognition.  It is also a necessary component for physical health and resilience.   Older people who do not get enough sleep tend to suffer depression, daytime sleepiness and increased nighttime falls.  Sleep deprivation can also increase risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, weight problems and certain types of cancer.  As we age, it is also harder to recover from lost sleep.

Being old does not need to mean being tired.  Good sleep patterns are critical regardless of age.  Sleep needs for elderly people are no different than older adults though sleep cycles tend to be earlier (go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier), and sleep tends to be less deep.  Experts do not believe that older people need less sleep, it is just that getting a good night sleep is more difficult as we age.   It has been estimated that between 40-70% of older adults have chronic sleep issues.  Up to half of the cases may be related to an undiagnosed condition.

Common Aging Related Sleep Issues

Daytime drowsiness

    • Approximately 20% of elderly people experience excessive daytime sleepiness


    • This is one of the most common sleep disorders amongst aging adults
    • Usually caused by more than one factors
    • Seek treatment
      • Some medications may help, but are not a cure

Nighttime urination (nocturia)

    • This issue affects up to 80% of seniors and is caused by changes in the urinary system
    • Avoid drinking too much liquid before bed, and speak to your doctor as treatment may be possible

REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD)

    • Primarily affects seniors. 
    • Rather than being paralyzed in REM, those who suffer from RBD move, sometimes quite violently.  Often patients seek medical help from injuries to themselves or their bed partners.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS)

    • RLS feels as though tingling, crawling, or pins and needles in one or both legs. 
    • PLMS is a movement disorder that involves repetitive leg (or arm) movements during sleep. PLMS causes limbs to kick and jerk every 20-40 seconds during sleep
    • Constricting legs and arms sometimes relieves symptom
    • Consult your physician for other forms of treatment
    • Medication, warms baths, exercise and relaxation can all help

Sleep Apnea

    • Causes pauses between breaths leading to oxygen depletion that can cause headaches, daytime sleepiness and foggy brain
    • Many are not aware they have this.  Loud snoring is a potential indication
    • Usually treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, but dental devices or surgery may also help

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