World Renowned ENT & Snoring Specialist

Sleep & The Elderly

As we grow age, our body’s ability to sustain sleep decreases. Hence, geriatric patients (above 65 years of age) may have difficulty maintaining sleep.

Falling to sleep by 9pm at night is usually not an issue; it is the problem of maintaining sleep beyond 2 to 3 am that the elderly are faced with. The opportunity to nap during the day also increases with retirement and older age, hence, these patients tend to take daytime naps, and this disrupts their sleep patterns further by keeping them awake at night.

Although older people spend about the same amount of time in REM (dreaming) sleep as younger people do, they get less of the deeper stages of sleep they need and awaken more frequently. Studies show that some people over age 60 may awaken briefly well over a hundred times a night, resulting in some daytime fatigue. Due to the frequent night time awakenings (arousals), their sleep is fragmented and hence, they get poor quality sleep and these result in daytime sleepiness.

Another factor that may compromise the sleep process as we get older is the likelihood of developing chronic medical conditions such as chronic obstructive lung disease, asthma, heart disease and arthritis. With heart failure, the patient cannot lay flat supine, as this leads to breathlessness. With chronic lung disease, the patient is always breathless and hence, cannot sleep well. Arthritis leads to joint pains and therefore, disrupted sleep.

The overuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs by older people to aid sleep is of concern. Some research suggests that these medications may not be effective in older people, in some cases sleep problems actually worsened.

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