Sleep Problems in the Golden Years

sleep problemsWe imagine our senior years to be a time to relax and enjoy a lifetime of memories. With the stress of jobs and raising a family behind us, it may seem hard to imagine having trouble getting enough rest and sleep.

But as far too many seniors are aware, this isn’t always the case. In fact, those over 65 actually suffer from far more sleep problems than any other age group. This lack of sleep can have a serious effect on both the senior and those who care for them.

A number of factors affect how we sleep when we age; some of them are medical, others are emotional. Less activity and general aches and pains keep some seniors awake at night. Also, life changes, such as loss of a loved one, can disrupt sleep.

But poor sleep is also strongly associated with medical and psychiatric problems that may develop as we age. Illnesses can promote sleep disorders. Depression is known to disrupt sleep and often turns into insomnia. Pulmonary disease, heart disease and arthritis are typical causes of sleep problems.

It’s worth noting here that some medicines that are commonly prescribed to the elderly can impair sleep and sometimes stimulate wakefulness. If you suspect that meds are keeping your elderly loved one awake at night, consult with their doctor to find out if there are better options.

One of the most common causes for poor sleep at night is inactivity during the day. Seniors live a slower lifestyle, but staying mentally and physically active will help the mind and body become tired enough to sleep. And frequent daytime naps don’t help nighttime sleep, either.

It’s natural to slow down as you age, but stopping activity all together will compound many medical issues, including problems getting to sleep and staying asleep. Of course, one person’s active day may be very different from another’s. For some seniors, a leisurely stroll around the yard is enough activity to tire the body and encourage sleep at night. For others, more strenuous activities such as sports, exercise and brisk walks are needed to feel tired enough to sleep.

And don’t forget mental activity.  Keeping the mind active and engaged will help promote healthy sleep at night. Reading a book, working word games and chatting with friends are all important ways to keep mentally active.

To maintain a healthy mind and body, and encourage healthy sleeping at night, it’s essential to be as active as your mental and physical condition will allow. Encourage your elderly loved ones to stay active during the day, and you’ll find that nights become far easier to deal with, both for your loved one and caretakers.

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