Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Sleep Changes in the
How much sleep do older adults need?
Most adults need about 8 hours of sleep at night
to feel fully alert when they’re awake. This is usually true for people
age 65 or older, too. But as we get older, we might have more trouble sleeping.
Many things can get in the way of sleeping well or sleeping long enough to be
What sleep changes are common in
Older adults might get sleepy earlier in the
evening and wake up earlier in the morning. Older adults may have trouble
falling asleep when they go to bed at night. They might not stay asleep all
night. They might wake up very early in the morning and not be able to go back
to sleep. These problems can make older people very sleepy in the daytime.
What causes sleep problems?
A number of things can cause sleep problems. By
the time an adult is over 65, his or her sleep-wake cycle doesn’t seem to
work as well. Some lifestyle habits (like drinking alcohol or caffeinated
drinks, or smoking) can give people sleep problems. Sleep problems may be caused
by illness, by pain that keeps a person from sleeping or by medicines that keep
a person awake. People of all ages can have a sleep disorder such as sleep
apnea, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder.
What is sleep apnea?
People with sleep apnea stop breathing for
several seconds during sleep. This can happen hundreds of times in a night.
Every time it causes the person to wake up a little bit. Sleep apnea can cause
daytime sleepiness. It can also make high blood pressure and heart disease
worse. People with sleep apnea usually snore very loudly. Then they stop
breathing for 10 to 30 seconds. They start breathing again with a gasp.
If you have sleep apnea and are overweight, it
might help if you lose weight. It will also help to stop drinking alcohol or
using sleep medicines, and to sleep on your side. Many people with sleep apnea
need to wear a nasal mask during the night to keep their airways open. The mask
treatment is called “continuous positive airway pressure,” or CPAP.
It helps you breathe normally during sleep. Surgery can help some people with
What is restless legs syndrome?
This is a “creepy-crawly” feeling,
mostly in the legs. It makes you want to move your legs or even walk around. It
may be worse in the evenings when your legs are at rest. It usually happens
every night and may start after you get in bed. The crawly feeling may keep you
from falling asleep. Older adults are more likely to have this problem.
If you have restless legs syndrome, placing hot
or cold packs on your legs or taking a hot or cold bath might help to reduce
your symptoms. Some people find relaxation techniques helpful. You can also try
massaging your legs, feet and toes before going to bed. Certain medicines may
help people who have restless legs syndrome – your doctor will decide if
using medicine is the right treatment for you.
What is periodic limb movement
A person with this disorder kicks one or both
legs many times during sleep. Often the person doesn’t even know about the
kicking unless a bed partner talks about it. It can get in the way of good sleep
and cause daytime sleepiness. Some people with restless legs syndrome also have
periodic limb movements during sleep. Medicine may help both of these problems.
What can I do to sleep better?
- Try to go to bed and get up at the same time
- Try not to take naps longer than about 20
- Don’t have caffeinated drinks after lunch.
- Don’t drink alcohol in the evening. It
might help you fall asleep, but it will probably make you wake up in the middle
of the night.
- Don’t lie in bed for a long time trying to
go to sleep. After 30 minutes of trying to sleep, get up and do something quiet
for a while, like reading or listening to quiet music. Then try again to fall
asleep in bed.
- Ask your doctor if any of your medicines could be
keeping you awake at night.
- Ask your doctor for help if pain or other health
problems keep you awake.
- Try a little exercise every day. Exercise helps
many older adults sleep better.