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When it comes to myths about sleep, this one refuses to nod off — and stay asleep.
In contrast to popular view, older folks do not need less sleep than the
normal person. In reality, adults need about the same quantity of sleep from
their 20s into old age, even though the amount of hours each night changes from
person to person. However, many older adults have much less sleep than they want, for
a variety of factors.
Take Harry Gaertner, a 68-year-old retiree in Richardson, Texas. He remembers
first being exceptionally exhausted and having trouble sleeping six years back.
“I needed to have 10 hours of sleep and an hour nap daily,” he recalls. Gaertner’s wife noticed he was snoring heavily. But Gaertner states, “the machine didn’t work, so
that meant something else was wrong.”
A trip to the ER showed what that something else was: Gaertner had a pacemaker to
fix his heartbeat. He now has a guaranteed pulse of 60 beats per minute,
which assists him breathe and sleep easier. However, Gaertner’s heart issues were only
partly to blame because of his restless nights. He still suffered from sleep apnea,
therefore he resumed use of the CPAP system and dozes more comfortably than he
has in years.
Sleep deprivation and seniors
Many older sleepers have sleep deprivation that is just as debilitating, if not as
complicated, as Gaertner’s. “Insomnia is more common for seniors, partly
due to health issues, partially because of the anxiety and the worries of
aging, and occasionally because of drugs,” says Jack Gardner, MD, a
neurologist certified in sleep medicine at the Sleep Center at Baylor Medical
Center in Waxahachie, Texas. Gardner adds that the probability of sleep apnea
and restless leg syndrome also increases with age. Frequent urination and the
pain from arthritis are more common, too, and rob sleep from seniors.
Another cause of senior snooze troubles lies in a major difference between younger and
older sleepers: the timing of rest. Sleep deprivation is frequently the result.
Bottom Line: It is essential to locate the root cause of sleepless nights, particularly if,
as in Gaertner’s case, sleep issues are concealing deeper medical problems.
“Watch your doctor if you’re not getting restful sleep during the night and cannot wake up refreshed,” Gardner says. “Healthy sleep is something one needs to expect at all ages.”
Tips for Getting more sleep
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try out these techniques for getting more shut-eye:
Get set. Wake up in the exact same hour every day and workout and consume meals at set times back on track.
Get sunlight. Regardless of your age, daytime is really important because it will help
modulate the sleep/wake cycle.
Get checked. Medication can interrupt sleep. A doctor can recommend adjusting the
timing or dose, or maybe switching to an alternative prescription.