As we age, it isn’t just our physical appearance or our mobility that changes. We will also see changes in sleep patterns as well – this is just part of the normal aging process. Unfortunately, the older we get, the more likely it is that we will find it harder to fall asleep. And, once asleep, older people tend to struggle to stay asleep as well. It was once believed that the sleep requirements of the older generation was significantly reduced once they reached 65. However, whilst it is accepted that they may sleep fewer hours, this number is not as low as was once believed according to a number of studies that have been carried out. If this is the case, then there is something that is stopping older people from getting the amount of night time sleep that they really need. These changes in the sleep pattern are referred to as “sleep architecture” by specialists, and the changes that occur as we age may be what contribute to the sleep issues. It is also accepted that older adults may have more daytime naps as well.
As we age, it can be harder to get comfortable at night. Some people may struggle finding the right position to sleep in without it being uncomfortable if they suffer with conditions such as arthritis. Older people are more likely to turn their heating off at night too, in order to save money, and therefore their house will be colder, which can make it difficult to get warm enough at night. Investing in an electric blanket can be a good way to ensure that your bed is not too cold at night and a double electric blanket or even a king size electric blanket shouldn’t be too expensive. The Argos electric blanket range for example has something to suit every budget.
An orthopaedic bed may also be worth considering as you get older. An orthopaedic mattress is one that has been designed in consultation with those who specialise in the study of orthopaedics. It is designed to support the back, joints and overall body in order to help you get the best night’s sleep possible. The best orthopaedic bed mattress will help support your body in all the right places whilst you sleep, ensuring that you get the best night’s rest possible. There are many on the market – if you’re looking, start with the supportive Simba mattress – 2020’s ‘Best Buy’ mattress according to Which.
You may also want to consider the duvet and pillows that you have to ensure that they work well for you. Many older people recommend a back-support, or V-pillow to help support them in bed; good for preventing acid-reflux, and useful for reading in bed, these pillows can be extremely useful and comforting. Choosing the right duvet is also important; older feather duvets can be heavy and full of dust mites, a good quality washable, synthetic duvet is often a good choice. An all-seasons duvet provides good value for money, being adaptable throughout the seasons – both warmth in winter and cool comfort in summer.
For the best sleep products and aids for seniors, see our ‘Best Sleep Aids for Older People‘ suggestions.
Getting comfortable at night is only one of the issues facing the elderly. There are a number of common sleep disorders that are more prevalent in older adults.
Common sleep disorders in older adults
Sleep disorders can be broken down into a couple of different categories. The first group are referred to as primary sleep disorders, these are one that have no medical or psychiatric cause and include:
- Insomnia, also restless sleep, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Sleep apnea, including short interruptions to breathing whilst sleeping
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
- REM behaviour disorder, the vivid acting out of dreams whilst asleep
According to a study in Nurse Practitioner, conditions such as depression, dementia and anxiety can also increase the risk a person has of developing sleep disorders, in particular, insomnia. Medical conditions that may cause sleep problems in the elderly are likely to be existing conditions and could possibly become a little more problematic as you are less physically active. These conditions include:
- Chronic pain – for example arthritic pain
- Parkinson’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Poor bladder control
- Respiratory or lung conditions
- Gastrointestinal issues
If sleep problems occur, either due to pre-existing medical conditions or new ones, then often these could be eliminated or aided. It is always a good idea to discuss the issue with your GP who will be able to offer you the best advice for your circumstances.
Adult bedwetting help
As much as we may think we left the bedwetting stage behind us many years ago, it could make an uncomfortable return as we age. While there are neurological disorders that cause bedwetting in adults, diabetes and bedwetting also go hand in hand. Or, it may simply be a case of poor bladder control.
Adult bedwetting help is available, and if it isn’t a medical issue that is causing you to awake to wet sheets, there are also a couple of things that you can try such as limiting liquid intake before bedtime, eliminating caffeine from the diet, and ensuring that you have an empty bladder when you do go to bed.
Too much sleep?
We have already discussed how much sleep on average an older adult is likely to need, however, it can be a concern when an elderly person seems to be getting an excessive amount of sleep. This can often be due to a number of reasons and could include side-effects from medications you’re already taking. Blood-pressure tablets (beta-blockers) and some anti-anxiety medicines are frequently cited as having sleepy side-effects. If you find this is the case, then it may be possible that your dosage of such medication may need adjusting. Otherwise alternative medication options could be something you could try, if your doctor feels it appropriate for you to do so.
Can’t find the cause?
Of course, it’s not always possible to work out why you’re not sleeping, and while we’ve listed some medical conditions here that might be affecting the way you sleep – or don’t sleep – it may simply be that you’re not in need of as much sleep as you once were. If you’re feeling tired all the time, of are suffering any signs of sleeplessness, then it might be worth seeing your doctor, but if you’re feeling sprightly on fewer hours of sleep than you once were, then this may not be a cause for concern.
The good news
Getting a good night’s sleep as you get older is possible, even if you suffer from any of the medical conditions we’ve mentioned above. Our advice would always be to practice good sleep hygiene, which we cover in our post ‘What to do before you go to bed’ and see your doctor if you suspect your health has something to do with any issues you’re experiencing. After all, no matter what our age, we all deserve the best night’s sleep we can get.