How To Improve Sleep In Old Age
Getting older can bring with it many perks (hello, retirement), but better sleep isn’t one of them.
As we age, we experience a marked decline in both the quality and duration of our slumber, with insomnia rates reaching nearly 50% by the time we’re over 60 years old.
If you’re bored of waking up at the time you used to go to sleep on a Saturday, our expert Dr Guy Meadows is here to help. He reveals the truth about sleep and aging – from how much you should be getting and what you can do to improve matters if you’re not…
Do you need less sleep as you get older?
Sleep problems in the elderly are so common, they’re often mistaken as a need for less sleep. But this is a myth. In fact, the recommended hours of sleep for older adults is seven to nine – so many of us need more sleep as we age, rather than less. But it doesn’t mean you have to get those hours in one unbroken chunk – more frequent, shorter sleeps are fine.
What can I do to improve my sleep?
1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Weight gain and a loss of mobility – both of which can come with age – make exercising difficult. These factors, combined with an increased chance of developing sleep apnea (thanks to extra weight), can add up to a poor night’s sleep. Aim to be active during the day as much as possible – 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week is enough to make a noticeable difference to your health and help combat insomnia in old age.
2. Check your medication
Unfortunately, aging often brings aches and pains which can disrupt your sleep. What’s more, some medicines prescribed to reduce symptoms or tackle illnesses (such as beta blockers) can themselves cause insomnia. Check the side effects of any medication you’re on and don’t be afraid to ask your GP for alternatives.
For women, fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone levels (not to mention hot flushes) brought on by menopause can play havoc with your sleep quality. Ask your GP about HRT, or try mindfulness or naturopathic remedies to help you get the rest you need.
3. Change how you view sleep
It’s a myth that we require less sleep in older age. Our sleep requirements do change though, as it becomes harder for us to sleep in one unbroken chunk of time. This is thanks to a reduction in the length and frequency of slow-wave sleep, which makes our rest lighter and more fragmented as we get older. The solution? Break your sleep up into a few shorter rests or naps instead.
Top tip: Older adults are more likely to go to bed early, in the hope of getting more sleep. This is known as advanced sleep phase and often results in waking up very early. Instead, stick to a later bedtime and keep yourself stimulated until then – read or call a friend in a well-lit room to stop you nodding off.
Can’t sleep? Read our guide to insomnia and how to overcome it.