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Aging’s effect on sleep

Riddle Hospital May 10, 2016 General Wellness

You may think that sleep gets easier as you get older, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, for many older adults, physical and environmental factors actually make sleeping more difficult.

Aging can make restful sleep feel like it’s out of reach—increasing the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep, how often you awaken at night, and reducing the amount of quality sleep you’re really getting.

“It’s not uncommon to find yourself having a harder time falling asleep or staying asleep as you get older, as sleep troubles are a common concern for older adults,” says Robert Satriale, MD, pulmonologist and sleep specialist at Riddle Hospital. “But don’t discount these as a ‘normal’ part of aging. Your sleep doesn’t have to suffer with age.”

Below, Dr. Satriale explores some of the most common reasons that aging causes sleep to suffer, and what you can do to help improve your restless nights.

Changes in environment

When you were younger, you may not have noticed the sound of a school bus, or the headlights of cars driving down the street. But, with age, you’ve become more sensitive to the lights and sounds in your sleep environment and your sleep has begun to suffer. If this sounds like you, it may be time for a bedroom makeover.

“Black-out shades or earplugs can help block out environmental distractions that are awakening you in the early morning or the middle of the night,” says Dr. Satriale.

Medications or chronic health problems

Health issues like cancer, diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s can all affect your sleep quantity and quality, as can some medications. While you may not be able to change your health status, you can ask questions of your health care provider before you begin taking a medication. Ask if and how a new medication will affect your sleep and, if so, if there are other options available.

If you’re taking medications that affect your sleep and no alternatives are available, your health care provider can recommend some tactics that can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep comfortably.

Changes in routine

If you’re enjoying retirement, you may be structuring your day a little differently than you did in decades earlier. For some, that may mean you start feeling tired at 8:00 instead of 10:00. Rather than pushing yourself to stay awake, trust your body.

“As we age, our bodies still need the same amount of sleep, but the hours during which we sleep will likely vary. For many older adults, this means going to bed earlier, and waking up earlier, but it varies by individual,” explains Dr. Satriale.

If you’re still struggling with obtaining a good night’s sleep, talk to your primary care physician about what you can do to help get your nights back. Repeated lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your health.

“Poor quality sleep can lead to depression, falls, and poorer memory and attention span,” says Dr. Satriale. “Sleep isn’t just important for feeling rested—it’s also important for keeping you healthy and keeping the mind sharp as you age.”

Still struggling to fall or stay asleep? Main Line Health offers several Sleep Center locations to provide you with diagnosis and treatment for a variety of sleep disorders. Request an appointment with a sleep medicine specialist today.