Older people often suffer from sleep problems. Here we explain how new everyday structures, health problems or the use of medication influence sleep and what can help to support healthy sleep, especially in old age.
Table of Contents
- This is how much sleep we need as we age
- Sleep in advanced age
- The most important tips for sleep in old age
- Sleeping pills for older people
1. This is how much sleep we need as we age
Sleep changes over the course of life: While small children sleep up to 17 hours a day, in middle adulthood 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night are usually sufficient. From around the age of 65, the average required sleep duration changes only slightly and is approx. 7 to 8 hours. The famous “senile flight from bed” and the fact that we supposedly sleep less as we get older is fundamentally not entirely true. In addition, older people often compensate for a lack of nighttime sleep by taking one or more naps during the day. Nevertheless, as we get older, it usually becomes increasingly difficult to find enough, truly restful sleep and so many older people suffer from sleep disorders.
2. Sleep in advanced age
As you grow older, not only your individual need for sleep changes, but also your living situation, your own sleeping habits and your personal state of health. New daily structures in retirement age, increased physical or psychological complaints or the use of medication have a strong influence on the quality of sleep and can prevent overall healthy sleep and sufficient sleep duration per night in old age.
Natural changes in sleep structure
In old age it is particularly important to spend enough time in deep and REM sleep so that physical and psychological regeneration as well as learning and memory formation can take place. Our sleep-wake rhythm and our sleep structure are crucially linked to the sleep hormone melatonin.
With increasing age, the body's natural melatonin production decreases continuously, meaning that older people spend less time in deep sleep overall, while light sleep phases increase. As we get older, we find it more difficult to fall asleep in the evenings, interrupt our sleep more often at night, and wake up more easily in the morning hours. As a result, the overall quality and duration of sleep is significantly reduced and sleep is perceived as superficial or not very restful.
Changed habits, too little daylight & exercise
Work, leisure time, family obligations - our everyday lives also change as we get older. As we get older, we often get up a little earlier, but rarely or not at all go to work, rarely do any sports and are generally less active during the day. Due to declining mobility, illnesses or a lack of social contact, older people no longer go outside as often and therefore spend less time in daylight, which, however, acts as a pacemaker for melatonin production and the sleep-wake rhythm. The lack of physical or mental activity, little exercise and the lack of sunlight can therefore lead to problems falling asleep and other sleep disorders.
Health complaints & taking medication
Illnesses and other health problems have a major influence on whether and how well we can sleep. Widespread illnesses such as diabetes, heart failure, breathing difficulties, stomach problems or nocturnal urination can prevent the body and mind from resting in the evening, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you have physical limitations, it can also be difficult to find a relaxed, pain-free sleeping position.
In addition, there is also an increased or regular intake of medication, which further impairs sleep. Strong antihypertensive drugs, migraine medications, heart or asthma medications and even antibiotics can suppress normal sleep functions and disrupt the sleep rhythm.
The psyche and the state of mind
Also our mood and the general state of mind have a major influence on our sleep. Older people often suffer from anxiety, excessive demands, loneliness or other psychological stress that promote stress and in this way also disrupt peaceful sleep. Too many worries and the carousal of thoughts in the evening or during nightly waking phases prevent the relaxation that is so important for sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep and disrupting a peaceful night.
3. The most important tips for sleep in old age
A good sleep hygiene and a healthy sleep rhythm are an important prerequisite for finding restful sleep quickly and easily at any age. Here we will show you what can help support good sleep, especially in later adulthood under difficult conditions.
#1 Make up for lost sleep
Lack of sleep can be made up for or compensated for to a certain extent. One or more naps a day can usually be easily integrated into everyday life as you get older and can help against tiredness and fatigue during the day. However, the afternoon nap should not last longer than 30 minutes so that we still feel enough pressure to sleep in the evening and the development of natural tiredness is not prevented. We have explained how to take the perfect midday nap here.
#2 Stay physically and mentally active
If you stay physically and mentally active during the day, you will not only improve your general health and well-being, but also improve your memory and sleep. Moderate exercise through walks or gymnastics exercises as well as mentally stimulating activities such as reading books, writing or doing puzzles are good ways to ensure more relaxation and a good mood and thus support the natural tiredness in the evening.
#3 Fresh air, daylight and exercise
As far as their health permits, older people should integrate as much time in the fresh air and daylight into their everyday lives as possible. Especially when combined with a little exercise, the metabolism and circulation are stimulated and hormone production is stimulated. If you are no longer mobile, you should try to sit on the balcony or by an open window for at least some time to soak up some daylight and support a healthy sleep rhythm.
4. Sleeping pills for older people
Over the course of our lives, we develop many routines, especially when it comes to sleep, which have to be adapted to new living conditions as we get older. However, many older people find it difficult to change their habits or to keep getting up and staying active. If the nights are regularly far too short and you don't feel rested in the morning, you'll quickly resort to sleeping pills.
Older people should be particularly careful with sleeping pills. The artificially induced fatigue can occur more or less suddenly, increase unsteady gait and the risk of falls and impair brain performance. Strong chemical sleeping pills in particular can quickly become addictive and, when interacting with other medications, can do more harm than help you get a healthy night's sleep. So if you have trouble sleeping despite good sleep hygiene, you should definitely seek medical advice before taking sleeping pills.
In late adulthood, the need for sleep changes only slightly; older people will have approx. 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night recommended.
Older people increasingly suffer from problems falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep or other sleep disorders.
The natural decrease in melatonin production, too little exercise, lack of daylight as well as increased health problems or the use of medication have a negative impact on the duration and quality of sleep in old age.
To ensure healthy sleep as we age, we should remain physically and mentally active, make up for lost sleep during the day and spend enough time in daylight.
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