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How Does Aging Affect Sleep?

Aging Affects Sleep

As we grow old, our body goes through a rollercoaster of changes. Part of aging is also learning to deal with less sleep by virtue of difficulty in falling asleep, difficulty in staying asleep or waking up very early and unable to fall asleep again. Why does this happen?

Changes in Sleep Architecture

As we have discussed  in detail, sleep occurs in four stages through repeated cycles of light and deep sleep. Scientists have discovered that as humans grow older, we tend to light sleep more. This essentially means that as humans age, there is an evident change in the sleep architecture that causes adult humans to spend more time in lighter stages of dreamless sleep. As a result, older adults feel tired, fatigued easily and also feel that “complete sleep” was not achieved.

Physical or Psychiatric Illness

The older we get, the more susceptible we are to diseases and illness of all forms. This often results in disturbing our sleep or creates a host of sleep disorders as a consequence of such an illness. While medications are available to treat any and all forms of illness, certain medication in itself can trigger digestive problems or cause night sweats, that in turn, can ruin your sleep as well. Hence, it is recommended to get a detailed understanding from your doctor on what the effects and consequences of your health and medication are on sleep; so, you can be better prepared to address it. For instance, Insomnia is greatly prevalent amongst adults that is generally triggered by some physical or psychiatric reasons.

Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome

The circadian rhythm is responsible for coordinating sleep and wake time of our body. This is also known as the internal clock that ensures you wake up in the morning and sleep at night. In older people, the circadian rhythm shifts forward, meaning that older adults tend to feel sleepy much earlier in the day than younger people. This also causes older adults to wake up much earlier in the next day and thus, begins the onset of difficulty in falling back asleep.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Most commonly, snoring occurs in people who are overweight and this can get worse with age. Snoring is caused when the tongue muscles fall back on the throat causing a vibrating noise. Snoring, in effect, can cause sleep apnea, i. e., irregular breathing while sleeping. According to Statistics Canada, adults between the age of 60 – 79 years are at a 30% higher risk of developing sleep apnea. The report also pointed out that at least 8% of Canadians reported having been diagnosed with sleep apnea by medical professionals. Narratives of people online indicate that chronic snoring and sleep apnea disturbs the sleep of not only the person causing the snores but also the people around them at night. Therefore, it is recommended to get it treated and checked.

Movement Disorders

Medically also known as Restless Leg Syndrome or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is a nervous disorder that causes the limbs to move when we sleep leading to disturbed sleep. Essentially, people suffering from any such movement disorders suddenly jerk or kick their legs while sleeping. Paired with light sleep, such a movement can easily wake anyone up. It is estimated that at least 45% of adults are at risk of developing this disorder as they grow older. While the exact reason for such a disorder is yet to be known, doctors believe it could be a result of iron deficiency, kidney issues, pregnancy or nerve defects.

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