For many older adults, sleep troubles rank among the biggest changes that occur with age. Many people who were formerly sound sleepers suddenly experience insomnia, waking during the night, daytime sleepiness, and general disturbances in their sleep patterns. Difficulty getting a good night’s sleep can exacerbate stress, diminish energy, compromise memory, and generally diminish quality of life. However, it’s also a perfectly normal part of aging that most seniors will struggle with at some point.

Changes to the sleep cycle can be attributed to a number of factors. One of these is a change in “sleep architecture,” a term that describes the time spent in different stages of sleep. As people grow older, they tend to spend less time in the deeper stages of sleep, and more in lighter ones. Similarly, many older adults also experience changes in their circadian rhythm, the “biological clock” that governs periods of arousal and sleepiness. Many older people find themselves waking earlier, as well as becoming sleepy earlier in the day. Finally, sleep problems are often related to other medical issues: insomnia, for instance, is a side-effect of some medications. In other instances, diseases like Parkinson’s can cause sleep disturbances.

For someone who wants to remain active and engaged in life, sleep problems can be extremely frustrating: it’s hard to keep work, family, and social obligations when you’re sleep-deprived! There are, however, several ways to improve your sleep and get better rest. Sticking to a routine sleep schedule can help to program your body to fall asleep at the right time. Creating a bedtime ritual that allows you to relax before bed can also be helpful: reading, listening to soft music, taking a warm bath, or other soothing activities are great ways to unwind in the evening. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially late in the day, as both substances can disturb sleep. Also, try not to drink too much liquid in the evening: having to get up to go to the bathroom can be very disruptive to sleep.

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