How Sleep Apnea Affects Seniors

  • Sleep patterns in older people are more irregular and lighter.
  • Sleep disturbances can be caused by movement disorders, sleep apnea, and pain.
  • Schedule a sleep study if you suspect that you may have sleep apnea.
  • A good sleep routine can improve your quality of sleep.
  • Seniors can benefit from exposure to the morning light (outdoors or indoors with an LED box).
  • This regulates the sleep-wake cycle and helps them sleep through the night.

Sleeping in Seniors

It is common for older people to sleep less at night than younger ones. This assumption is often accompanied by the belief that older people don’t require as much sleep. However, both assumptions can be questioned. People over 50 get 7 hours sleep per night, whereas people between 19 and 30 have 8 hours. This may be partly due to the fact that older people wake up earlier in the mornings and because they are more likely to get up at night. But, it is possible that older people take more frequent daytime naps than younger people. This means that an older person may get 8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour time period, which could be comparable to a younger person. The quality of older people’s sleep isn’t as good as that of younger people.

You can see that sleep quality is affected by the amount of wakefulness during the night. Chapter 6 explains this. The sleep of older people is less dense and fragmented due to wakefulness than that of younger people. Older people experience less deep sleep (see illustration on page 130). Although they get more REM sleep than younger people, it is less intense. Napping may be an option for older people to make up for the sleep they have lost over the night. Some people may find that naps can make up the sleep loss, but they don’t make up the quality of their sleep at night. Naps may actually make the problem worse in some cases. They can make the person feel less tired at night or confuse their internal clock. It is unclear what the difference in sleep between older and younger people means. It is not known why deep sleep is necessary and REM sleep is important. Therefore, the reason for the decline in these stages with age remains a mystery.

Myths about Aging and Sleep

Most older adults are in good health and complain about sleeping disturbances very little. Although their sleep is less consistent than when they were younger they don’t seem to be too bothered. Some older adults have severe sleep problems. Some myths about sleeping and aging may discourage them from seeking help.

Being tired is not a sign of aging. Don’t believe that feeling sleepy during the day means you are old. You may have a sleep disorder that can be treated if you feel tired and unable to concentrate for more than an hour. Poor or disturbed sleep is not normal. Don’t believe excuses that poor or disturbed nighttime sleep is normal. Do not be discouraged if you feel your quality of life has been affected by sleep problems.

Why Older Adults Have Trouble Sleeping

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be a serious condition that can disrupt the sleep of elderly people. According to studies, sleep apnea was reported in up to 30% of healthy older adults. It is likely caused by the progressive loss of muscle tone in the upper airway, which occurs with age. Sleep apnea in older adults is often mild to moderate. It is often not severe enough or barely severe enough to be considered clinical sleep apnea. This means that there are fewer than five events of apnea lasting more than 10 seconds per hour or 30 events in a single night.

A mild case of sleep apnea in healthy older adults is not usually a sign that they need treatment. As long as they are well-rested, it seems the consensus is that this level is normal. But, sleep apnea symptoms should not be overlooked. Healthy seniors should not be afflicted by drowsiness or loss of mental alertness. They must strive to stay as active and alert as possible. Apnea episodes can cause sleep fragmentation and a decrease of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to daytime drowsiness or loss of alertness. Daytime drowsiness is less common in seniors with restless legs or other sleep disorders like apnea. Sleep apnea could be the cause of daytime drowsiness in seniors. You may contact a sleep center if you suspect that your sleep is being disturbed by apnea. If you have trouble sleeping at night and your partner is snoring, somnoplasty might be an option. (See Chapter 10).

Leg movements during sleep

About 40% of older adults experience involuntary movements of the legs during sleep. Restless legs syndrome is a condition where a person feels uncomfortable or achy and has a strong urge to move their legs. This can make it difficult to fall asleep. These are repetitive kicking movements that occur during sleep.

They are called nocturnal myoclonus (periodic leg movements). They may wake the sleeper but are often more disruptive for the bedmate. Talk to a sleep specialist if you or your partner experience any of these disorders.

Medical Problems and Depression

Older adults who are less healthy may experience sleep problems such as pain from arthritis, respiratory issues, leg cramps, and frequent urination. Another condition that can impact sleep is depression. Depression symptoms can be attributed to “just growing old”. They include insomnia, pessimism, loss of interest, decreased self-esteem, poor sexual function, increased health problems such as constipation and back pain, abdominal pain, headaches, social withdrawal, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

These symptoms are not inevitable with aging. These symptoms are rare in healthy older adults. If you have symptoms like poor sleep or other signs of depression, then it is important to treat the depression and not just the symptoms. As some treatments can cause sleep problems, it is better to consult a sleep specialist before treating medical issues or depression.

A Good Night’s Rest

One of the most common complaints about older adults is their inability to sleep well. This is a common problem that people have become concerned about. The worry of not getting enough sleep can keep them awake at night. Here are some things you can do if you’re a senior experiencing frequent nighttime awakenings and sleepiness. Good sleep hygiene is a way to make your day more pleasant. Regular meals are a must. b. Get more exercise each day, but don’t do it right before bed. c. Get outside every morning. To regulate your sleep-wake cycle, your biological clock requires light signals every day. Indoor lighting is too dim to be effective. Even on cloudy days, morning light can help to reset your sleep-wake rhythm and improve your sleep quality. d. Eliminate daytime naps.

These are often more due to boredom than sleepiness. Instead of snoring, find something to do. e. Create evening activities with friends, or alone. Enjoy a relaxing evening. You should limit your intake of caffeine (coffee and tea, cocoa, cocoa, and cola), and drink moderate amounts of alcohol (alcohol interferes with sleep). You will feel less need to urinate at night if you limit your intake of fluid after 7 p.m. Get out of bed at a specific time every morning, such as 6:30 or 7 AM. I. Relaxation techniques can be used to ease tension and worries that might keep you awake at night.

You can rest assured that your nighttime awakenings may be normal and that you are getting enough sleep. This information alone can help you relax and stop worrying about whether or not you are getting enough sleep. This knowledge will allow you to sleep better. These suggestions may not be effective. You should seek professional help. These suggestions should be tried for several weeks in a controlled manner. If they fail to work, you should consult your doctor. If you are still having trouble sleeping, your doctor may refer you to a sleep clinic.

Talk to a sleep specialist if you suspect that you may have a medical condition that is interfering with your ability to sleep. Sometimes, the treatment of one medical condition may not be the same as the treatment of another. Some drugs that are prescribed for heart conditions can make sleep apnea worse. Sleeping pills, like alcohol, almost always make sleep apnea worse. Side effects of some antidepressants and barbiturates can have a negative impact on sleep. Your family doctor may not be as familiar with these sleep effects, so a sleep specialist will likely know more. Together they can find the best way to improve your sleep. The sleep specialist might recommend treatment if your sleep apnea is severe or moderately serious. The severity and type of your apnea will determine the treatment you need.

Summary

  • Many older people get the same amount of sleep per night as young people.
  • The quality of older adults’ sleep may be less than that of younger people. This is because it is more disturbed by prolonged periods of wakefulness.
  • Sleep apnea and leg movement syndromes can all interfere with seniors’ sleep.
  • If you feel tired or your quality of living is declining, seek help.
  • For testing and an interview, visit an accredited sleep center.
  • A program of good sleep hygiene can often solve mild sleep problems, as described in this chapter.
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