St. Luke's Hospital
Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
Find a Physician Payment Options Locations & Directions
Follow us on: facebook twitter Mobile Email Page Email Page Print Page Print Page Increase Font Size Decrease Font Size Font Size
America's 50 Best Hospitals
Meet the Doctor
Spirit of Women
Community Health Needs Assessment
Home > Health Information

Multimedia Encyclopedia

    Print-Friendly
    Bookmarks

    Aging changes in sleep

    Information

    Sleep normally occurs in several stages. The sleep cycle includes:

    • Dreamless periods of light and deep sleep
    • Some periods of active dreaming (REM sleep)

    The sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night.

    AGING CHANGES

    With aging, sleep patterns tend to change. Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep, and that they awaken more often.

    Total sleep time remains the same or is slightly decreased (6.5 to 7 hours per night). It may be harder to fall asleep and you may spend more total time in bed. The transition between being asleep and awake is often abrupt, giving older people the feeling of being more of a "light sleeper" than when they were younger.

    Less time is spent in deep, dreamless sleep. Older people average three or four awakenings each night, and are more aware of being awake.

    Awakenings are related to less time spent in deep sleep, and to factors such as the need to get up to urinate (nocturia), anxiety, and discomfort or pain associated with chronic illnesses.

    EFFECT OF CHANGES

    Sleeping difficulty is an annoying problem, but it is seldom dangerous. Because they sleep more lightly and wake up more often, older people may feel deprived of sleep even when their total sleep time has not changed.

    Sleep deprivation can eventually cause confusion and other mental changes. It is treatable, and symptoms should be reduced when you get enough sleep. Sleep problems are also a common symptom of depression. You should see a health care provider to determine if depression or another health condition is affecting your sleep.

    COMMON PROBLEMS

    • Insomnia is one of the more common sleep problems in the elderly.
    • Other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy or hypersomnia, can also occur.
    • Sleep apnea, where the breathing stops for a time during sleep, can cause severe problems.

    PREVENTION

    The elderly respond differently to medications than do younger adults. Itis very important to talk with a health care provider before taking sleep medications. Avoid sleep medications, if possible. However, antidepressant medications can be very helpful if depression affects your sleeping. Some antidepressants do not cause the same side effects that occur with sleep medications.

    Sometimes, a mild antihistamine works better than an actual sleeping pill for relieving short-term insomnia. However, most health experts do not recommend these types of medicines for the elderly.

    Sleeping medications (such as benzodiazepines) should be used only as recommended, and only for a short time. Some can lead to dependence (needing to take the drug to function) or addiction (compulsive use despite adverse consequences). Some of these drugs build up in your body, and toxic effects can develop if you take them for a long time. Confusion, delirium, falls, and other side effects can develop.

    You can take measures to help you sleep:

    • A light bedtime snack may be helpful. Many people find that warm milk increases sleepiness, because it contains a natural, sedative-like amino acid.
    • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine (found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate) for at least 3 or 4 hours before bed.
    • Do not take naps during the day.
    • Exercise (moderately) in the afternoon.
    • Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each morning.
    • Use the bed only for sleep or sexual activity.

    If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity, such as reading or listening to music.

    When you feel sleepy, get back in bed and try again. If you still can't fall asleep in 20 minutes, repeat the process.

    Drinking alcohol at bedtime may make you sleepy. However, it is best to avoid alcohol, because it can make you wake up later in the night.

    RELATED TOPICS

    • Aging changes in the nervous system
    • Insomnia

    References

    Minaker KL. Common clinical sequelae of aging. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 24.

    BACK TO TOP

    • Sleep patterns in the yo...

      illustration

      • Sleep patterns in the yo...

        illustration

      A Closer Look

      Talking to your MD

        Self Care

          Tests for Aging changes in sleep

            Review Date: 9/3/2012

            Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
            adam.com

            A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and chrome browser.


            Back  |  Top
            About Us
            Contact Us
            History
            Mission
            Locations & Directions
            Quality Reports
            Annual Reports
            Honors & Awards
            Community Health Needs
            Assessment

            Newsroom
            Services
            Brain & Spine
            Cancer
            Heart
            Maternity
            Orthopedics
            Pulmonary
            Sleep Medicine
            Urgent Care
            Women's Services
            All Services
            Patients & Visitors
            Locations & Directions
            Find a Physician
            Tour St. Luke's
            Patient & Visitor Information
            Contact Us
            Payment Options
            Financial Assistance
            Send a Card
            Mammogram Appointments
            Health Tools
            My Personal Health
            mystlukes
            Spirit of Women
            Health Information & Tools
            Clinical Trials
            Health Risk Assessments
            Employer Programs -
            Passport to Wellness

            Classes & Events
            Classes & Events
            Spirit of Women
            Donate & Volunteer
            Giving Opportunities
            Volunteer
            Physicians & Employees
            For Physicians
            Remote Access
            Medical Residency Information
            Pharmacy Residency Information
            Physician CPOE Training
            Careers
            Careers
            St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
            Copyright © St. Luke's Hospital Website Terms and Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Patient Notice of Privacy Policies PDF Sitemap St. Luke's Mobile