September 9th is National Grandparents Day, a day to honor grandparents across America as important members of our families and communities. Grandparents play important roles in life, including that of guardian, comforter, and mentor. As they get older, however, several aspects of their lives change, including their sleep patterns. While older adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night, many often get less sleep, which may make them more susceptible to health problems.
"As we get older, our sleep is more easily disturbed," says James P. Krainson, MD, of the South Florida Sleep Diagnostic Center in Miami and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Underlying health issues are often the cause of these disturbances. Arthritis and pain can cause frequent awakenings and interfere with falling asleep. Cardiovascular, neurologic, urologic and psychologic disturbances can likewise play havoc with our sleep. In fact, most all medical problems can disturb our sleep, and the older adults' sleep is most vulnerable."
Many older adults often have more trouble falling asleep than persons in other age groups. A study of adults over the age of 65 found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
There are many other possible explanations for changes in older adults' sleep patterns, says Dr. Krainson. Older adults may produce and secrete less melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. They may also be more sensitive to changes in their environment, such as noise, and this may cause them to awaken. Further, older adults may also have other medical and psychiatric problems that can affect their sleep, says Dr. Krainson, adding that researchers have noted that people without major medical or psychiatric illnesses report better sleep.
Several studies that outline the negative consequences of bad sleep among older adults were presented at Sleep 2007, the 21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, this past June:
Dr. Krainson notes that several studies published in recent issues of the journal SLEEP have some interesting findings about older persons and sleep:
According to Dr. Krainson, some of the more common sleep disorders in older adults include:
Not sleeping well can lead to a number of problems. Older adults who have poor nighttime sleep are more likely to have a depressed mood, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls and use more over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids. In addition, recent studies associate lack of sleep with serious health problems such as an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Despite obstacles many older adults have to overcome in order to get a good night's sleep, Dr. Krainson says that it does not mean they are doomed to chronic sleep deprivation. While most people require seven to eight hours of sleep a night to perform optimally the next day, older adults might find this harder to obtain, says Dr. Krainson, adding that they must be more aware of their sleep and maintain good sleep hygiene by following these tips:
Dr. Krainson says that, although sleep patterns change as people age, disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day are not part of normal aging. Those who have trouble sleeping are advised to see a sleep specialist at a facility accredited by the AASM.
"Be prepared to tell the doctor how you spend your day and night, including your medicines, fluid intake and activities so that they will have all the information needed to decide how best to help you," says Krainson.
Materials provided by American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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