You’ve done everything to sleep better — from cutting down on your caffeine intake to putting your phone away an hour before bedtime — yet you still end up tossing and turning all night long (or day if you’re on a graveyard shift or simply a night owl!).
When you were younger, you could fall asleep as soon as you head hit the pillow. But over the years, you’ve noticed that quality shut-eye is playing hard to get. Let’s take a look at why slumberland becomes more evasive as you grow older.
Sleeping Problems as You Get Older: Age Related Changes or Not?
It’s a widely known fact that it’s perfectly normal for sleep to play hard to get as you get older. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation reports two specific changes in sleeping patterns as a result of aging. Most of these sleeping pattern changes occur around middle age and further declines into your 60s.
Your total sleep time (TST), sleep efficiency, and slow-wave sleep (SWS) decreases with age. It’s worth noting that SWS is one of the most important stages of sleep because it’s the period when your body recovers and energizes itself for the next day. Meanwhile, a person’s wake after sleep onset (WASO) or the number of times a person wakes up during sleep increases with age.
What Research Has to Say About It
Understanding the why behind the problem is incredibly important to come up with ways in eventually improving your own sleeping pattern.
- It turns out your brain isn’t as accurate in recognizing whether or not your body is tired and it’s time to hit the sack.
In a review paper published in the journal Neuron last April, a team of researchers in the University of California- Berkeley identified one possible cause of sleeping problems as you age: gradual decline of neuronal connections in the brain that pick up on sleepiness cues. In other words, your brain tends to fail in recognizing when you’re tired.
- Physical and psychiatric conditions as well as the medications used to treat them can also impact sleep disturbance as you age.
Chronic medical conditions tend to come up as you get older, and they will likely interfere with how you sleep. Heart disease, arthritis, and asthma are a few examples of these chronic conditions. Coughing, fever, and pain can already cause a mild case of sleeping issues. In addition, medications to treat these medical problems can also disrupt sleeping patterns.
A review paper on sleep disorders in the elderly published in the Journal of General and Family Medicine last March highlighted the different causes of chronic insomnia in older people.
Dealing With Sleeping Pattern Problems Due to Aging
As you may have noticed, the reasons behind sleeping difficulties as you get older are very varied.
While lifestyle changes such as avoiding food and drinks that tend to worsen your insomnia can help, it pays to figure out the underlying cause behind your sleeping pattern woes. It may have to do with your current diet, a chronic illness, or even a new health condition that you may not be aware of.
In the end, it all boils down to being proactive in finding solutions that are uniquely tailored for you. You can accomplish this by finding a health care provider who will help you dig deeper to correct the root cause, check for hormone imbalances, food sensitivities, GI issues, mental health issues and who will educate you along the way as to how you can optimize your health and overall wellbeing. After all, the best modern medicine out there goes beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all approach.