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National Sleep Awareness Week

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler
National Sleep Awareness Week

As we age, you'd assume that sleep comes more easily than at any other time in adulthood. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Those age 65 and older frequently face sleeping difficulties. In recognition of National Sleep Awareness Week – March 11 through March 17– ATRIO Health Plans is drawing attention to these sleep problems and to potential solutions.

Sleep Patterns Change

As we get older, changes occur physically, cognitively and in relation to our sleep patterns. Specifically, seniors often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Specialists point to changes in older people's sleep patterns as part of the problem.

Sleep is not one unchanging action. Instead, it unfolds in stages, including dreamless periods, phases of active dreaming, and periods of light and deep sleep. These stages repeat several times over the course of a single night. Studies have found, however, that older people spend more time in periods of light sleep. Consequently, many seniors report that they don't get a good night's sleep and feel tired during the day.

There's also a higher incidence of insomnia, which is a habitual inability to sleep, among seniors. Nearly half experience symptoms of insomnia a few times weekly. If this persists for more than two weeks, an appointment with your doctor is in order. Solutions can be as simple as cutting back on caffeine or cutting out afternoon naps. Conversely, a more serious cause may be to blame. In that cause, your physician will develop a treatment plan that could include behavioral therapy and/or prescription medication.

Medical Issue Increase

With each passing year, older adults experience an increased incidence of medical issues, many of which are chronic. Chronic conditions often precipitate sleep problems.

High blood pressure, for example, is frequently accompanied by snoring and sleep apnea – when breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Both of these issues can result in less-than-optimal sleep.

Menopause's classic symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats are other clear disruptors of sleep. Additional common causes of sleep problems include: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); diabetes; renal failure; asthma; Parkinson's disease; and multiple sclerosis.

Sleep Suggestions

Here are some tips to help seniors get a good night's sleep:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • Stay away from caffeinated beverages late in the day.
  • Don't drink alcohol as a sleep aid; it actually has the opposite effect.
  • Give yourself about 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you're still awake, don't panic. Simply get out of bed and return when you feel tired.
  • See a medical professional if daytime fatigue lasts more than two weeks and is negatively impacting your ability to function normally. You may be referred to a sleep disorders specialist.