As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it harder and harder to fall and stay asleep. Why is that?
Dr. Abhinav Singh, medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center and a sleep professor at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine, likes to answer this question with an analogy. Think of your ability to sleep as though it were a car, he said. As it ages and clocks more miles, it begins to fall apart; it needs more repairs, and its ride becomes less smooth.
The same thing happens with your sleep, Dr. Singh said. Researchers have found that sleep quality gets a little rusty with age: Older adults are more likely to take longer to fall asleep and wake up more frequently throughout. the night and spend more time napping during the day compared with younger. adults. They also spend less time in deep, restorative. sleep, which helps: with bone and muscle growth and repair, strengthens the immune system, and helps the brain reorganize and consolidate memories, Dr. Singh said. Your melatonin levels, which play an important role in sleep and wake cycles, also go awry with age, he said.
It is no surprise, then, that when researchers surveyed more than 9,000 people ages 65 and ‘older in a landmark study published in 1995, they found that 57 percent of them reported at least one sleep complaint over three years. These included trouble falling or staying asleep, waking up too early, feeling unrested, and napping during the day. In a different study, published in 2014, scientists found that a little more than half of the 6,050 older adults surveyed had either one or two
insomnia symptoms over the past month.
Research suggests that women are more likely than men to report poorer sleep quality in general.
As for what causes these changes, no one knows for sure. “We’re only just starting to understand why all of this happens, said Luis de Lecea, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.
One explanation might have to do with an aging brain, In a study published in February, Dr. de Lecea and his team found that a particular cluster of neurons responsible for wakefulness be. came overly stimulated in aging mice, disrupting their sleep Cycles. This shift “likely also happens to humans,” he said, because the part of the brain that regulates sleep in mice, called the ‘hypothalamus, is similar to that of humans. (Many sleep studies are conducted in mice for practical and ethical reasons.)
Certain lifestyle changes can lead to sleep disruption later in life, too, said Adam Spira, a professor and sleep researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As people retire, their days become less structured and routine. They may wake up! later or nap during the day, which can make it harder to fall asleep at night, creating a vicious cycle.
The good news is that the same habits that improve sleep for people, in general, will work for older adults with changing sleep patterns, Dr. Spira said. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding naps and late-afternoon caffeine, following a healthy diet, and exercising regularly are. all things that. will help your sleep; research suggests.
Keeping consistent mealtimes every day can also help maintain a routine, which, in turn, can help regulate sleep, Dr. Singh said — as can spending time outside in
sunlight, which helps keep melatonin production and the body’s circadian rhythm in check.
ALISHA HARIDASANI GUPTA
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