A Good Night's Sleep

We all look forward to a good night's sleep. Getting enough sleep and sleeping well help us stay healthy. Many older people do not enjoy a good night's sleep on a regular basis. They have trouble falling or staying asleep. Sleep patterns change as we age, but disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day is not part of normal aging. In fact, troubled sleep may be a sign of emotional or physical disorders and something you should talk about with a doctor or sleep specialist.

Sleep and Aging

There are two kinds of sleep in a normal sleep cycle - rapid eye movement or dreaming sleep (REM) and quiet sleep (non-REM). Everyone has about four or five cycles of REM and non-REM sleep a night. For older people, the amount of time spent in the deepest stages of non-REM sleep decreases. This may explain why older people are thought of as light sleepers. Although the amount of sleep each person needs varies widely, the average range is between 7 and 8 hours a night. As we age, the amount of sleep we can expect to get at any one time drops off. By age 75, for many reasons, some people may find they are waking up several times each night. But, no matter what your age, talk to a doctor if your sleep patterns change.

Common Sleep Problems

At any age, insomnia is the most common sleep complaint. Insomnia means:

  • Taking a long time to fall asleep (more than 30 to 45 minutes)
  • Waking up many times each night
  • Waking up early and being unable to get back to sleep
  • Waking up feeling tired
With rare exceptions, insomnia is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself.

Insomnia can be linked with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, a common problem that causes breathing to stop for periods of up to 2 minutes, many times each night.