Healthy sleeping habits play a big role in healthy aging, but for many seniors sleep can be elusive. In fact, only 12 percent of seniors interviewed during a study published in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported no sleep complaints. It’s natural for sleeping patterns to change as you age, but not getting enough sleep can put you at risk for a number of health issues.
Causes of Poor Sleeping Habits
Many seniors go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than they did in their younger days. Some find that they only seem to need six to seven hours of sleep per night. These changing habits are normal and shouldn’t cause concern as long as you are feeling rested. Some seniors, though, have a hard time falling asleep. Others have difficulty remaining asleep, while some struggle to reach a deep sleep.
Sleep disturbances and disorders in seniors can have a number of causes. Emotional struggles such as anxiety and depression can keep you awake, as can painful conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis. Bladder issues can lead to waking up several times during the night. Dementia can also lead to poor sleeping habits.
Risks of Poor Sleeping Habits
When you don’t get enough sleep, difficulty paying attention and a slowed reaction time are often two of the first symptoms. This increases your risk of injury from a car accident or a fall. Over time, you may struggle to remember things and suffer from cognitive decline, which could further contribute to accident-related health risks.
A lack of sleep can also lead to or exacerbate a number of other conditions. These may include arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, according to the National Institutes of Health. While the link isn’t yet clearly defined, it’s clear to researchers that there is also a relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and sleep disorders. Researchers from the American Thoracic Society believe that trouble sleeping may either be an early symptom of the disease or a risk factor. In a separate study, Washington University in St. Louis researchers found a link between chronic sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s brain plaques.
Tips for Better Sleep
If you are struggling with difficulty sleeping or have developed poor sleeping habits, these tips may help you get a better night’s sleep:
- Try to keep a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants late in the day.
- Limit naps, especially in the late afternoon or evening.
- Create a calm, relaxing environment and give yourself a chance to wind down before bed.
- Ensure your sleeping space is dark and at a comfortable temperature.
- Get plenty of exercise, but don’t exercise in the late evening. This can make it difficult to sleep.
- Turn off all electronics — including televisions, radios, and cell phones — before bed.
- Talk to your doctor if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep on a regular basis. There may be an underlying cause that should be addressed.
Getting the sleep you need is as important to your health as eating healthy and exercising. In fact, it can lessen a number of risks to your health and safety. This means that developing good sleeping habits could be key to remaining active and independent.