Aging and sleep

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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Since almost one third of our lives are spent sleeping, reviewing the relationship between aging and sleep is important for our overall health. Poor sleeping patterns and lack of sleep can contribute to many health problems and reduce the quality of life, particularly in people over the age of 65.


Some of these sleep issues are due to changes in the body’s internal clock which controls our circadian rhythms which, in turn, influences our daily cycles such as when we get hungry, feel most alert or get sleepy. As we age, our bodies may not produce enough of certain hormones, such as cortisol or melatonin which are normally produced in response to darkness and helps promote sleep.

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The part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms receives information from your eyes, and light is one of the most powerful cues for maintaining circadian rhythms. Unfortunately, research shows that many older people don’t get sufficient exposure to daylight, often averaging about an hour a day and possibly less for people who live in nursing homes or who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.


There are several health conditions that may also interfere with sleep including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and painful conditions like arthritis. A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2003 found that “…24% of people between 65 and 84 years old reported being diagnosed with four or more health conditions and take five or more medications per day, which can impact sleep and sleep quality. Those with multiple health conditions were more likely to report getting less than six hours of sleep, as well as having poor sleep quality.


“Poor sleep quality in seniors can be related to the lifestyle changes that often come with aging. For example, retirement leads to less working outside of the home and possibly more napping and less of a structured sleep schedule. Other significant life changes, such as loss of independence and social isolation, can increase stress and anxiety, which can also contribute to sleep issues.”


There are some things we can do to improve the quality of our sleep, and not surprisingly, improve our overall health and life. They include getting regular exercise, eliminating bright lights in the bedroom, taking the television and other electronics into another room, and reserving the bedroom for sleeping. 


Do your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule, and avoid substances that discourage sleep like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Even large meals late in the day can make sleep more challenging. These are just a few of the adjustments that you can make to improve your ability to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer.


Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: