Throughout a human’s life, their need for sleep and their sleep habits change. During each stage of life, a person’s sleep habits and requirements change. The aging has a lot of effects on a person’s duration and quality of sleep, and understanding how sleep habits change with age helps you know what’s normal and what deserves evaluation by a doctor.

The Sleep Cycle

A cycle of sleep lasts for about 90 minutes. It includes three general stages. There are light and deep stages of sleep with no dreams. The third stage is rapid eye movement, or REM. This is when you dream. The sleep cycle repeats itself throughout the night. Ideally, you should wake up naturally at the completion of a sleep cycle in order to feel well-rested.

How Aging Changes Your Sleep

As you get older, your sleep habits change. Many senior citizens find it more difficult to fall asleep. They wake up more during the night and awaken earlier in the morning. On average, elderly people wake up three or four times during a seven- to eight-hour stretch of sleep. They are more aware during these awake periods. During a sleep cycle, less time is spent in the deep, dreamless sleep.

This results in a person feeling like they are not well-rested. A person’s total time spent asleep decreases a little once they reach their senior years. Most elderly people get an average of six to seven hours of sleep per night. The transitions from sleep to awake are more abrupt as a person gets older, making people feel like they did not sleep deeply.

Common Age-related Sleep Problems

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep problems in the elderly. Some other common age-related sleep problems include restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, hypersomnia and narcolepsy. Sleep disorders are a common symptom of depression, and it can be difficult to tell if the depression is caused by a sleep disorder or the sleep disorder is caused by depression. A visit to the doctor is important if an elderly person feels hopeless, depressed or sad for more than two weeks.

Effects of Sleep Problems As You Get Older

Sleep problems are frustrating, and they can have serious impacts on physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation increases a person’s risk of an auto accident. The elderly already have a higher risk of auto accidents because of slower reaction times. Poor sleep contributes to difficulty concentrating and decreased alertness. Insufficient sleep also increases a person’s risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Sleep deprivation can also cause symptoms that are similar to dementia, including mental confusion. These symptoms go away when a person gets enough sleep.

Preventing Sleep Problems As You Age

For an older person, it’s safer and better to prevent sleep problems instead of trying to treat them with over-the-counter sleep aids or prescription sleep medications. This is because medications and supplements affect the elderly more potently than they do younger people. There are a few things that you can do in order to prevent age-related sleep problems. Buy a new mattress every 10 years. Have a consistent bedtime. Avoid caffeine or alcohol within four hours of bedtime. Avoid electronics and bright lights in the hour before you go to bed.

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