Sleep Disorders: Sleep and Aging
More than half of men and women over the age of 65 years
complain of at least one sleep
problem. Many older people experience insomnia and other sleep
difficulties on a regular basis.
As we get older, our sleep patterns change. In
general, older people sleep less, experience more fragmented sleep, and spend
less time in stages 3 & 4 and REM sleep (for example, deep sleep and dream
sleep) than younger people. However, regardless of your age, good restorative
sleep is essential to physical health and emotional well-being.
Sleep Problems in Older People?
Several factors may contribute to the inability
to sleep well as we get older. Some common causes include:
- Poor sleep habits:
Irregular sleep-wake patterns can affect an individual's circadian rhythm and
make it hard to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Other sleep hygiene issues,
such as consumption of alcohol before bedtime, increased wakeful time in bed,
or daytime napping, can also affect a person's ability to sleep.
- Medical illness:
Certain chronic medical conditions are common in older people. Some of these
conditions, including heart failure, arthritis, heartburn, menopause and
can affect sleep. These conditions can make it hard to fall sleep or may cause
the person to awaken frequently, ultimately affecting duration and the quality
of sleep. \
- Medications: Some
medications may impair a person's ability to fall asleep or stay asleep and
may even stimulate wakefulness at night.
- Psychological distress or psychiatric disorders: Old age
is characterized by a lot of life events, some positive and some negative. Some
older individuals experience psychological difficulties or psychiatric disorders
that will affect the quality and quantity of sleep. For example, life changes
such as the death of a loved one, moving from a family home, or physical
limitations due to illness can cause significant stress and sleep
- Sleep disorders: Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and REM behavior disorder, are
associated with aging.
- Retirement: Retirement often leads to a lot of downtime with less daytime
activity; this can lead to an irregular sleep-wake schedule and chronic sleep
Are You Getting Enough Sleep?
Every person's sleep needs are
different. If you are getting less sleep than when you were younger, but still
feel rested and energetic during the day, it might just be that you now need
less sleep. However, if you are noticing that your lack of sleep is affecting
your daytime activities, you should talk to your doctor. There are steps you can
take to improve your sleep quality.
Reviewed by The Sleep Medicine Center at The Cleveland Clinic.
Edited by Michael J.
, WebMD, September 2004.
Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic
Last Editorial Review: 6/20/2005