The Sleep Challenges of Getting Older

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Rest assured that you can achieve quality sleep as you age. Understanding the challenges, lifestyle solutions, and key adjustments to your daily habits can help in your pursuit of peaceful slumber.

Many aspects of health change as you get older, including sleep habits. Despite feeling tired at night, people often find that they can’t seem to get the sound sleep that they crave. But while it may be more noticeable in the elderly population, sleep quality actually begins to decline early in adulthood. Starting in your late 20s, the amount of deep sleep you get each night begins to shrink—regardless of total hours—a trend that worsens with age. It’s also common to have a hard time falling and staying asleep as you get older. This experience can be frustrating, but there are steps you can take to improve sleep as you age.

Why It Happens
Changes in your brain are partially responsible for your increased sleep troubles. As you get older, the neurological receptors that connect with sleep-signaling chemicals weaken, meaning your brain has a harder time figuring out when you’re actually tired. In addition, the risk for physical and psychiatric illnesses increases with age, and these conditions—along with the medications that treat them—can make sleeping more difficult.

What Makes It Worse
Certain habits can make quality sleep a bigger challenge than it already is. For instance, taking naps during the day can make it harder to sleep at night and worsen insomnia. Drinking caffeine, even three to four hours before bed, can make it tougher to fall asleep and can also diminish sleep quality. Other conditions, such as sleep apnea and snoring, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), all contribute to difficulties sleeping.

How To Treat It
Because your body becomes more sensitive to changes in your routine as you get older, it’s important to pay close attention to your daily habits and how they can affect sleep. Regular exercise may help lessen the likelihood of sleeping during the day and improve your sleep quality at night. Exposing yourself to bright light in the morning and afternoon and keeping your bedroom dark when you sleep at night can improve your ability to regulate your body clock. Follow a regular sleep schedule and develop a relaxing bedtime routine to destress and reduce any racing thoughts once you shut your eyes. Avoid eating large meals too close to bedtime, as well as alcohol and caffeine.

Engaging in these healthy habits can help improve the quality of your sleep. If you’re still having issues, schedule an appointment with your doctor, who can help find the best solution for you.