Adequate sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. As we get older, getting a good night’s rest becomes more challenging because sleep patterns change with age. Sleep occurs in several stages, including light and deep sleep, and periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). According to the National Sleep Foundation, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep. They also show increases in the time it takes to fall asleep, have decreases in the amount of REM sleep and experience more periods of waking from sleep. The foundation’s research also found that insomnia is higher among older people, with 44 percent of older adults reporting insomnia symptoms in a 2003 poll. Sleep problems can cause fatigue, irritability and depression. More importantly, the lack of adequate sleep can undermine a person’s rehabilitation after an injury or surgery.
Older adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, according to the National Institute on Aging. However, illness or pain can make it hard for a person recovering from an injury or surgery to get needed rest. Sleep deficits can be particularly troublesome if a person is in rehabilitation after an injury or surgery. For example, research published in Frontiers in Neurology in 2015 found that sleep problems, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, were common among stroke patients. Researchers reported that the lack of proper sleep led to problems with memory and the ability to learn new motor skills. Sleep problems can also be dangerous to recovering patients by reducing alertness and reaction times, leading to more falls and accidents. Over time, lack of quality sleep can compound a person’s health problems and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
What can be done?
There are several options for dealing with sleep problems. Try the following suggestions to help you get more rest:
- Create a restful environment, free from noise, distractions and excess light.
- Establish and follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Exercise daily, but not within 3 hours of going to bed.
- Stay away from caffeine, sugar and alcohol late in the day.
- Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime.
- Avoid naps in the late afternoon or evening.
- Try not to watch television or use your computer or mobile device in bed.
- Use low lighting in the evenings and as you prepare for bed.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine. Put aside some time to read, meditate or take a soothing bath or shower before bed.
- Consult your healthcare provider about your sleep problems. A healthcare provider may suggest medications to help you sleep or recommend a sleep study to find out why you are not sleeping properly.
If you are experiencing trouble sleeping, consult your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.