Sleep Habits: What’s normal and what’s not?

Older adults need the same amount of sleep as adults of any age (seven to nine hours per night), but certain factors and conditions can make restful sleep difficult to achieve, leaving seniors feeling fatigued and often affecting their health. Poor sleep habits can also lead to depression, attention and memory issues, increased risk of falls, and moodiness.

With age, we naturally produce less melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. Our bodies also tend to shift our schedule, waking us earlier in the morning and making us tired earlier in the evening. While some changes in sleep habits are considered normal with age, significantly disturbed sleep is not part of normal aging and should be shared with your doctor.

Among adults over 60, insomnia is the most common sleep problem. Insomnia can involve trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and can last for years.

Certain conditions can also contribute to sleep changes. Those living with Alzheimer’s disease are also prone to changes in sleeping habits, which might include sleeping too much, not enough, or wandering or yelling at night. Chronic pain can make sleep uncomfortable, sleep apnea can cause people to wake multiple times without realizing it, and movement disorders such as restless leg syndrome can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

Fortunately, there are some ways to develop healthy sleep habits. To promote deep, restful sleep, try the following:

  • Avoid naps in the late afternoon or evening, which could keep you awake at night.
  • Develop a bedtime routine to help your mind and body know it’s time to unwind and prepare for sleep. This might include reading a book, taking a bath, or listening to music.
  • Avoid bright screens in the bedroom—the light from these devices can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Be mindful of food and drink. Caffeine, alcohol, and large meals can have an effect on sleep, especially when consumed later in the day.
  • Get regular exercise, but not within three hours of bedtime.

If sleep problems persist, talk to your doctor to help pinpoint the individual cause of your sleep issues.

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