Although the same amount of sleep is needed throughout our adult life, changes in sleep patterns occur as a natural part of the aging process. Many adults report sleeping differently after middle age. At a time when the likelihood of illness increases, it may be difficult to distinguish normal sleep from a sleep-related problem.


Age-Related Sleep Problems
    The following list, though not comprehensive, describes the most common sleep issues faced by older adults:

Circadian:
Sleep naturally progresses through stages of light then deep sleep, followed by periods of REM or dream sleep. Older people spend less time in the deepest sleep stages of sleep. The production of hormones that regulate the sleep-wake cycle (including melatonin) decreases. As a result, sleep begins and ends at an earlier phase, even though the same amount of sleep is obtained. A severe advance in circadian rhythm (more than two to three hours) could indicate a sleep disorder called Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome.

Lifestyle:
Retirement brings about major life changes. A full time job may be exchanged for part-time work or full retirement. Social activities may involve less physical movement. Illness or physical decline may limit the ability to exercise as well. A decrease in physical activity during the day can disrupt nighttime sleep. Retirement often means a less restrictive schedule, making it easier to take long enough naps during the day to disrupt sleep, especially in the context of changing circadian rhythms.

Medications:
Older adults are more likely to use multiple medications, which may react with one another in a manner that impacts sleep. Even the use of a single drug such as a heart or pain medication can cause daytime drowsiness or nighttime awakenings. Blood pressure medication, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), allergy medications, and over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications also affect sleep. Managing medications along with illness can improve sleep. (See also Drugs & Sleep.)

Illness and Pain:
Older people are more likely to suffer from physical and mental conditions that disrupt sleep, as well as certain sleep disorders. Frequently, it is the associated pain and discomfort that interferes with sleep. Other disruptive features include breathing difficulties, frequent urination, depression and anxiety. Arthritis, heart disease, degenerative brain disease, cancer, lung disease, depression and anxiety all impact sleep. Sleep issues should not be underestimated when managing age-related illness.


Common Age-Related Sleep Disorders:
Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome
Physical Illness and Sleep
Psychological Illness and Sleep
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
Restless Legs Syndrome
Sleep Apneas


Suggested Downlaods

SleepIssues:
Sleep and Health
Aging and Sleep

SleepCaptions:
Aging and Sleep