As people age, they tend to require less sleep. Many older adults do fine with just six hours each night, whereas teenagers often need eight or more hours to keep from being sleep-deprived.
Despite this lower requirement, many older people suffer from insomnia and difficulty falling asleep.
In fact, one study showed that in the case of people ages 65 and older, 36 percent of women and 13 percent of men required more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.
Older individuals tend to nap more often during the day, which may be brought on by difficulties sleeping at night.
They also tend to sleep lightly and wake up more often during the night than younger adults.
Many older people also feel tired and turn in early in the evening, and subsequently awaken very early in the morning.
One reason for these age-related changes in sleep patterns is that older adults produce less of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.
Medical problems, such as heart disease and sinusitis, and medication side effects may also disrupt sleep.
One national survey showed that 44 percent of older adults complain of one or more symptoms of insomnia several nights per week.
Those complaints are usually associated with chronic illnesses.
Another common sleep problem is snoring. Nearly 100 million Americans suffer interrupted sleep due to snoring.
The risk of becoming overweight or obese increases with age — and both of those conditions are associated with snoring.
When a person snores, the amount of oxygen supplied to the brain is temporarily disrupted, which may explain how snoring can impair brain cell function.
If snoring is particularly loud, it could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, which increases the risk of high blood pressure, cognitive impairment, and other health problems. Sleep apnea also leaves people feeling tired and moody the next day.
Restless leg syndrome is an age-related neurological condition that afflicts about 10 percent of the population, who experience an irresistible urge to move their arms and legs, disrupting their sleep.
Yet another common age-related illness that disrupts sleep is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Burning pain, belching, and other symptoms of this condition make it difficult to sleep through the night.
It’s important to seek medical attention for any underlying illness that might be disrupting normal sleep.
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