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Why you get less shut-eye as you age—and whether or not that’s a good thing

The short answer: Grandma needs just as much sleep as you do. After age 18, most adults require seven to nine hours of shut-eye, no matter what decade of life they are in. However, the elderly often fall short of this number. About 44 percent of the elderly population experiences insomnia.The condition is more serious in this age group as it increases the risk of falls and can lead to cognitive decline. Read on for some of the reasons seniors that are missing out on sleep.

Illness: Health problems like heart failure, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, or an enlarged prostate can make it harder to fall asleep, especially if a senior feels uncomfortable while in bed. Less serious conditions (like restless leg syndrome) can also affect how easily the person falls or stays asleep. The more seniors work with their doctors on treating these types of medical conditions, the more likely they’ll experience better slumber.

Less Exercise: A decline in physical activity after retirement can mess with the body’s sleep/wake schedule. To ensure the best slumber possible, the elderly should aim to get moving every day, even if that means simply taking a short walk around the neighborhood.

Medications: Certain prescription drugs (like those that treat heart problems, blood pressure, and asthma) as well as over-the-counter drugs (like cold or headache medications) can lead to difficulty falling and staying asleep. Anyone senior citizen who thinks that his or her medications may be to blame for sleep problems should talk to his or her physician to see if an alternative drug or lifestyle change may help.

Snoring: Loud, excessive snoring (which becomes more common in old age) can disturb both the snorer and the non-snoring sleeping partner. What’s even more alarming is that it can also be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious sleep problem that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, memory loss, and depression. Seniors should discuss any snoring (as well as any middle-of-the-night gasping/choking sounds) with a doctor, who may prescribe a sleep test to see if sleep apnea is to blame.

Napping: A change in body clock (also known as circadian rhythm) occurs during the later years of life, causing people to both go to bed and rise earlier. This can make older people more tired in the afternoon, since they’ve been up for longer. But napping too much to ease this fatigue can backfire, making it harder to fall asleep come bedtime and ultimately leading to less total sleep. Keeping naps to 30 minutes or less can help improve energy without messing with nighttime sleep.