At 76 years of age, she was still full of energy and activity and she regaled me at lunch with so many fascinating stories about growing up in Scotland, specifically in Edinburgh. Her main concern now was her worry about her increasing inability to sleep well compared to when she was younger. I did admit that I felt a similar concern.
Margaret had done some homework about ’sleep’ and she recognized that, as she was aging, she was experiencing normal changes in sleeping patterns, such as becoming sleepy earlier, waking up earlier or experiencing less deep sleep. She also discovered that, while sleep requirements do vary from person to person, most healthy adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night. However, how you feel in the morning is more important than a specific number of hours. Frequently waking up not feeling rested or feeling tired during the day are the best indications that one is not getting enough sleep. And, some days, she- and I too- were plagued with both!
How could we resolve our problem? Being techies in our 70’s (joke!), we Googled it and discovered the common causes of insomnia and sleep problems in older adults(1):
- Poor sleep habits and sleep environment. These include irregular sleep hours, consumption of alcohol before bedtime, and falling asleep with the TV on.
- Pain or medical conditions. Health conditions such as a frequent need to urinate, pain, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis, nighttime heartburn, and Alzheimer’s disease can interfere with sleep.
- Menopause and post menopause. During menopause, many women find that hot flashes and night sweats can interrupt sleep. Even post menopause, sleep problems can continue.
- Medications. Older adults tend to take more medications than younger people and the combination of drugs, as well as their side-effects, can impair sleep.
- Lack of exercise. If you are too sedentary, you may never feel sleepy or feel sleepy all the time.
- Stress. Significant life changes like retirement, the death of a loved one, or moving from a family home can cause stress.
- Lack of social engagement. Social activities, family, and work can keep your activity level up and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep.
- Sleep disorders. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and sleep-disordered breathing—such as snoring and sleep apnea—occur more frequently in older adults.
- Lack of sunlight. Bright sunlight helps regulate melatonin and your sleep-wake cycles. Try to get at least two hours of sunlight a day. Keep shades open during the day or use a light therapy box.
So, now, which problem shall Margaret and I–would you?– address first?
(1) Smith, M.A., Melinda, Robinson, Lawrence and Segal, M.A., Robert. ”Sleep Tips for Older Adults,” Help Guide, Revised 2020.
Submitted to Health Local by Brian Porter. For advice about seniors and care at home, please kindly contact Brian Porter, Director and Owner of Living Assistance Services (LAS) at 416.483.0070 (ofﬁce), 905.758.2486 (cell) or [email protected] and visit: