It is very common for people over the age of 60 to get less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night. In fact, many older adults struggle with insomnia. Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling and staying asleep – taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep or waking frequently during the night.
Sleep changes in older people are due to a number of factors. As people age, the circadian rhythm – the internal cycle often called the “biological clock” – shifts. Many older adults become tired earlier in the evening and wake earlier in the morning than they used to. This can be frustrating, as a new sleep cycle may conflict with social and work schedules. People who are not used to going to bed at an earlier time may have trouble falling asleep, even if they feel sleepy. In addition to changes in circadian rhythm, sleep architecture – the way in which the different stages of sleep are structured – also shifts as people get older. This means that, instead of extended periods of deep, restorative sleep, older people tend to spend more time in lighter stages of sleep, during which they are more susceptible to being woken by changes in the environment, such as noise or light.
In addition to biological changes in sleep architecture and circadian rhythm, older people may experience insomnia due to the ailments that often accompany aging. Chronic pain can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep; diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s can also cause insomnia. Insomnia is also a very common side-effect of certain medications. Although it can be disruptive to daily life, insomnia is a completely normal part of aging. With the right approach, it can be managed to allow maximum quality of life.
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