To understand the correlation between sleep and aging, we need to understand what sleep is? A human body is a machine that produces, stimulates, and regulates all the organ systems and neurological functions to run the body smoothly.
If a person is asleep, he/she can be stated as the machine is at work but resting. To simplify the language, the body is unconscious in a physical state. However, other body functions are continuously carrying out their regular functions.
Sleep is considered essential because it makes the body rested completely; it is a self-healing process formed by the body where the body heals severe complexes during the sleep hours, it makes the brain rest and strong simultaneously.
There's no moral theory to clarify why sleep has many changes, yet every change reflects a certain reason, dysfunction caused by internal or external factors. As age increases in numbers, it also brings a great number of physical disorders with it.
Older people suffer from back pain, joint pains, and many more dysfunctions that hamper their sleeping hours.
Aging And Changes In Sleeping Patterns
According to NIH, aged people, i.e., people above 45 - 50 years, experience either a low quality of sleep or problems during their sleeping hours.
These problems have the worst effect on all senior citizens. Aging causes people to wake up often during the night and not get sound sleep.
Aged people mostly sleep in parts, i.e., they sleep for 2-3 hours, wake up for a short time again and sleep for 2-3 hours. Henceforth, over a while, they are prescribed sleep medications.
The period between sleep and wake phase is short, which makes older people think they are deprived of sleep. However, their sleep time remains the same as earlier; it might be deducted to an hour or two.
Science and body studies say that the age group of people between 20-45 should normally sleep for at least 7 to 8 hours, and those older than 45 should consider resting their bodies for more than 8 to 9 hours.
Kids, teenagers, or adults (between the age group of 19 to 45) are more likely to fall asleep quickly and have a sound sleep than adults above 45 years.
Here's why aging is the reason for not having a good sleep.
Sleep pumps up the process of restoration in the human body, ultimately leading to good health. A young human body has a lot of muscular strength, more stored energy form, and a good skeleton structure to support overall body functions.
Young people work more than the aged ones, which means their body gets more exhausted than the old people who tend to work very little. Little exhaustion doesn't allow the body to take more rest than needed. Less exhaustion means less sleep.
Age can also matter in mental health and sleep. Young people not only work physically but mentally too. Too many mental processes covered up in the whole day wear out the brain and other organs in coordination with the brain.
The human brain starts signaling the eyes to shut down and rest when it wears out completely, and hence people start feeling sleepy after an exhausting day. Old people are less likely to have such exhausting days and thus don't feel more need to have a long sound sleep.
Considering the above reasons, we can understand how old people feel deprived of sleep.
Common Sleep Problems And Changes Due To Aging
Humans have different rem sleep cycles, and their sleep pattern depends on these cycles. They are as follows:
NREM 1st Stage
Here the body relaxes, and the brain tries to shut down the running process. It starts right from the movement. You close your eyes and start to sleep for 10 minutes.
NREM 2nd Stage
The body starts falling sleepy, and eye movements come to a rest. The second stage starts 10 minutes after you try to sleep for the next 20 minutes.
NREM 3rd Stage
The body movements either slow down or come to rest, and the brain progresses towards deep sleep.
The duration of this stage lasts about 50 to 60 minutes.
REM 4th Stage
This stage makes the body paralyzed for a certain period; however, the brain comes to alert and feels or reacts to the stimulus.
The fourth stage of the sleep cycle begins after 90 minutes of falling asleep. The above stages progress one after another in a certain pattern and get repeated throughout the night.
If the body gets the proper rest and peaceful sleep, then only all these cycles repeat at least 2 or 3 times throughout the sleeping hours. Young people experience complete sleep cycles more than those aged one.
Aged people experience an incomplete cycle due to their sleep pattern breaks. Even though they complete sleep of 7 to 8 hours but due to constant waking up (averagely 4 to 5 times per night) or disturbance in their sleep (needing to urinate), they seldom enter the NREM 3rd stage or fourth stage.
As they spend less time in NREM 3rd stage and REM 4th stage, they remain more inactive in sleep, where the brain is aware of the surroundings and is close to the awake situation. This also makes older people feel deprived of sleep.
All the cycles are essential to provide the body with a night of healthy sleep, and since it remains incomplete in aged people, it makes them irritated and confused and hampers their cognitive processes.
How Do These Changes Affect You And Your Sleep?
The changes mentioned above can directly affect human health. Sleep deprivation leads to numerous problems and harms mental and physical health together.
As age increases, the body ages, and the nervous system works slowly compared to the young human. The brain loses several nerve cells, and the signals from the muscles to the body reach slowly.
This results in several sleep problems:
Insomnia is a disorder where you do not feel sleepy, even if the sleep is incomplete.
Insomnia is more common in elderly people.
Hypersomnolence or hypersomnia is an excessive sleep disorder seen more in older people despite completing the required sleep. It normally makes elderly people sleep consequently.
RLS - Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome, or RLS, makes people move their legs frequently because of paraesthesias and dysesthesias that mostly occur during sleep. It doesn't allow people to keep their limbs in one place.
Restless leg syndrome becomes a common thing after the age of 65 years.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that can occur at any age, from 13 to the last breath but is more common in elderly people. Sleep apnea is a disorder caused due to obstruction in the upper airway.
As the muscles around the nose tract weaken along with age, it starts obstructing breathing. Sleep apnea is much more dangerous in older people as it completely stops their breathing ability for a certain time.
As age increases, muscles lose more intactness, and older people face more sleep apnea.
These are some disorders caused more as age increases and lead to an unhealthy sleeping life.
Make sure the sleeping environment of the elders is proper. The dark, quiet, and airy places are perfect for sleeping.
Older people already suffer a lot from having a peaceful sleep; their environment should be silent to have a good peaceful sleep, abundant with fresh air, and odor-free. (Don't use heavy alcoholic room fresheners in the bedroom)
A good environment ensures good sleep quality, and older people need such quality sleep.
The bedroom temperature matters too to have a good sleep. You can't sleep in a too-hot or too-cold bedroom; the temperature should be moderated or as per the resident's preference.
The main motto of room temperature is to calm the body and relax all the tightened muscles so the brain can signal it's time to sleep.
Does a healthy lifestyle affect sleep? Yes, it completely does affect one's bedtime routine in all ways.
All people, especially those aging, should opt for a healthy lifestyle, including healthy eating, sleeping habits and mental and physical exercise.
Stop Drinking Too Many Alcoholic Beverages
It seems that alcohol helps in dozing off, but as the body gains consciousness, it is more likely that the hangover or alcohol in the body won't let it have a proper rest or sleep at all. Too many alcoholic beverages or aerated drinks release certain hormones that signal the brain to stay active rather than close down.
Avoid Caffeine Or Carbonated Foodstuffs Before Going To Bed
This is essential since caffeine alerts the brain and wakes flies from the eyes.
Eat Light Meals Before Bedtime
Heavy dinner within 2 hours of sleep results in incomplete digestion and causes more problems in older adults.
Avoid Being In Contact With Light Or Radiation-Emitting Devices
All the electric mediums that emit radiation, such as mobile phones, television, or laptops, should be avoided at least half an hour before bedtime. The light emitted from such devices makes the brain alert and doesn't allow the eyelids to rest.
Train Your Brain - Bed Is For Sleeping
Only do this in the bedroom, like having food or doing work. To help older people, we provide them with everything in their beds, leading to unhealthy habits. Brain catches it as routine, making it difficult to fall asleep within minutes with age.
Only Use Medicines With A Prescription
Some people find it easy to just memorize any random medicine and use it to doze off. However, it is seriously hazardous to one's life and can also be fatal. The young body easily resists side effects or easily maintains heavy dosages of medications than those of older adult bodies.
No Tobacco Consumptions
Older people should strictly say no to tobacco products; it prevents the body from getting sleep. Also, it can be way more harmful to regulating other bodily functions.
Now that you know all about the sleep changes with aging, let’s take a look at a few frequently asked questions.
Is It Good To Exercise Before Sleeping?
Exercise is good; however, hitting the gym before sleep can be a bad decision. That’s because vigorous physical activity before sleep increases the heart rate and makes it harder to fall asleep. Also, older people should avoid exercises that increase their heart rate.
What Are Negative Sleep Changes?
Negative sleep changes are the changes that make you feel deprived of sleep and disturb your healthy sleeping style. First, identify what makes your sleep disturbed, tackle the reasons, and then build solutions.
How To Prevent Negative Sleep Changes?
Sleep changes or habits are easy to adjust at a younger age and are a mammoth task after a certain age, yet not impossible to do. If the struggle is about preventing negative sleep changes, make a strict bedtime routine and stick to it.
All in all, older people should take extra care of themselves. Getting sufficient sleep is just as important as other self care measures. However, the sleep cycles and patterns change over time as a person grows old. Therefore, extra measures need to be taken in order to ensure perfect sleep.
Older people should walk before sleeping in natural surroundings to ensure they get fresh oxygen and their eyes cool off with the temperature in the surroundings.
Try out the above suggestions to enjoy the most quality sleep. It is normal to have feelings of sleep deprivation in old age; however, if it increases, then consulting professionals is the perfect solution.
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