How Does Aging Affect Your Sleep Patterns?

Aside from the gray hair and wrinkles, it is also normal for our sleep patterns to change as we grow older. Most of the time, older adults find that they have a hard time falling asleep.

It is also common to experience more disturbances — you may find yourself rising up way too early or waking up in the middle of the night up to three or four on average. The reasons for the latter include anxiety, the need to use the bathroom, or discomfort caused by chronic illnesses.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is an overall decline in REM or rapid eye movement sleep because we naturally tend to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep as we get older.

But studies point out that medication is also a factor here. In particular, medications that are used to control blood pressure or treat cancer and depression may have an impact on sleep quality.

"When elderly individuals complain of insomnia, it is important to assess treatable medical conditions and medication use that may be responsible for the insomnia before the use of hypnotics is initiated," researchers from Dokkyo Medical University in Japan wrote in a 2017 study.

There are other interventions to consider depending on your diet and lifestyle habits. For example, you may want to reduce your caffeine intake or avoid caffeinated beverages during the four or five hours before you go to sleep. Also, try to avoid taking daytime naps and using tobacco products.

Several health experts also emphasize the importance of exposing yourself to enough sunlight. This can contribute to the production of melatonin, which regulates your sleep cycle.

The takeaway is that sleep quality is bound to decline to some degree as we age. If you suspect it to be taking a toll on your health, do speak to your doctor and find out what the underlying cause is. The sleep needs of every individual can vary, so these changes are not always a bad sign.

"Can you run the 100-yard dash or the 100-meter dash as fast as you could when you were 18?" asked Michael V. Vitiello, a psychologist at the University of Washington who specializes in sleep in aging.

"A lot of older adults recognize that they don’t sleep the same as they did when they were 18, but they can still function and they’re OK. And all is well with the universe," he told the Washington Post.

Guidelines suggest that seven and a half hours of sleep should be a fine target for older adults. Keep an eye out for how you function during the day — if you find that you feel very sleepy or have been experiencing more pain, it is a sign to get yourself checked out.