Why does a good night’s sleep gets harder with age?
As people age, their sleeping habits also change. A new review on the sleeping habits of older adults finds that reduced ability to achieve deep sleep has negative health consequences.
Older adults do not sleep as well as younger adults. Older people tend to go to bed earlier, wake earlier and take longer to fall sleep. They also have more fragmented sleep, waking up periodically throughout the night. This means that they sometimes miss out the deep stages of sleep. This all adds up to a lower quality of sleep. Men are more likely to suffer from sleep disruption compared to women, especially over the age of 70.
Poor sleep habits have been linked to several medical conditions, including depression and dementia. Dementia and sleep are closely linked, with dementia often actually causing sleep problems. A poorer quality of sleep can speed up a decline in memory and other mental functions.
Sleep is an important part of the memory consolidation process so poor sleep patterns could potentially accentuate signs of dementia. Studies in animals even hint that deep sleep helps remove the build-up of the amyloid-beta proteins in the brain, which are linked to dementia.
Obstructive sleep apnoea is another condition affecting the quality of sleep. Characterised by repeated stops and starts in breathing during the night, sleep apnoea is connected to heart disease and diabetes.
The good news about addressing sleep quality in later life is that there is a lot that can be done to assist. Being physically active can lead to improved sleep. Keeping the temperature comfortable and limiting exposure to artificial light in the evening, especially the blue glow from computer and television screens, can also help.
The sun is a powerful regulator of our body clock so getting plenty of sunlight in the morning and afternoon not only gives a nice vitamin D boost, but also helps keep the body’s circadian rhythms regular.
Don’t wait until older age to take notice of your sleep quality. Good sleep habits in the younger years and middle age can carry over into later life where it matters even more.
Last Reviewed: 04/01/2020
© Norman Swan Medical Communications.
Mander BA et al. Sleep and human aging. Neuron 2017;94:19-36.