Sleep and its Role in Healthy Aging

As people grow older, they may find that they have increased difficulty sleeping. Older adults may struggle to sleep for the same reasons that younger people do, such as stress or poor sleep hygiene. However, they also face additional challenges from such things as menopause, medication, pain and sleep disorders, all of which are more likely to affect older adults. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep and aging often seem to go together.

What Disrupts Sleep?

In addition to the issues mentioned above, a disruption in circadian rhythm and in hormones, including melatonin, can affect the sleep of older adults. Both of these may be natural consequences of aging to some extent, but the lifestyle of some older adults may reduce their exposure to sunlight and further disrupt both circadian rhythm and melatonin production. This might be the case for an older person living in a nursing home.

Older people might also be more likely to be sedentary than younger people, and this can affect their ability to sleep. Older adults who have more flexible schedules or who are retired may be tempted to nap during the day to counteract their poor sleeping at night, but this can introduce a cycle in which the daytime napping is disrupting the nighttime efforts to sleep. Similarly, a lack of sleep could lead active people to cut back on their activities because they are tired. Being more sedentary could then lead to more health problems.

Your Sleep Needs As You Age

Most older adults continue to need seven to nine hours of sleep just as younger adults do, but there are a few typical changes in sleep patterns by age. It is normal for older adults to experience a shift in which they get sleepy earlier and wake up earlier. It is also normal to take longer to fall asleep at night.

However, sleep is more important for older adults simply because their immune system is not as robust as it used to be, and sleep is important for repairing that. A lack of sleep has a cognitive effect on people of all ages, and here again, for older adults, it is particularly important to make an effort to preserve cognitive health.

The Effect of Sleep on Aging

Does sleep affect aging? The answer is yes, both cosmetically and in terms of overall health. One example is sleep and aging skin. A lack of sleep can make skin look duller and cause dark circles under the eyes.

There are few areas of our lives that sleep does not affect, from how we look to how healthy our bodies are to how quick our minds work, and this remains true throughout our lives. Current research continues to reinforce the link between healthy sleep and aging in a healthy way, particularly when it comes to cognitive issues.

There are a number of steps people experiencing sleep problems over 50 can take to restore a good night's sleep. Calming bedtime rituals, avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening and learning tricks to set aside worrying, such as meditation or making a note about the worry and then setting it aside, can all improve sleep quantity and quality. Poor sleep and aging do not have to go together, and a lack of sleep in older adults should be treated seriously since it is such a fundamental component of good health.

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