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Do Sleep Problems Increase with Age?

Updated on June 6, 2021
Sam Shepards profile image

I'm Sam. I enjoy writing about sleep and mental health-related topics as well as ways to prevent stress and to relax.

As they age, many people find that they have increased issues with sleep problems. Sleeping problems seem to be so common with age that many people consider them a symptom of aging. The truth is that trouble sleeping doesn’t have to come with age. Underlying illnesses and health issues, rather than age itself, are usually the true cause of sleep problems that occur with age, according to a study at the University of Pennsylvania.

Seniors and other people past middle age still need the same amount of sleep as younger adults. Some age-related factors, however, can make sleep more difficult. Understanding these underlying factors may help you to get better sleep, no matter how old you are.

Physical Changes

Most physical changes do not have a direct correlation to sleep, but there are a couple that might influence the quality of your sleep. The most common have to do with snoring. As you age, your muscles tend to relax. This includes your throat muscles. The more relaxed your throat muscles are, the easier it is for your airway to become partially blocked.

Your airway also typically becomes smaller with age. This also increases the likelihood of snoring. Snoring can decrease the quality of sleep for both you and your partner. If it is a recurring problem for you, you may want to look into a snoring remedy.

Illnesses

Age-related sleep problems may in fact be a secondary symptom of illnesses that are more common in older age. Arthritis, heart disease, heart burn, asthma, and restless leg syndrome are all more common in older people. These conditions can all make it more difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep all night. If you start to have trouble sleeping as you get older, it’s a good idea to assess whether any of these conditions could be the problem before you start treating a sleep disorder.

Medication Side Effects

It’s also possible for medications to be at the root of sleeping problems. This can pose a challenge to older people, as you are likely to require more medication as you age. A number of medications have side effects that include making it harder to fall asleep or making you feel alert in the evening.

If the beginning of having trouble sleeping coincides with when you started taking a new medication, this may be the case. The solution is not necessarily to start taking sleeping pills to offset other medication. Instead, you should try talking to your doctor about how you can reduce the sleep-impeding side effects. Something as simple as a dosage adjustment or changing when you take your medication may help.

Lifestyle Changes

Old age also tends to bring a lot of lifestyle changes that may be connected to sleep problems. Retirement usually means that your daily schedule changes significantly. If you’re not going to bed and waking up at the same time every day anymore, you may be throwing off your sleep schedule. If this is the case, try to establish a new regular routine. Getting some sunshine during the day and avoiding bright lights close to bedtime will also help.

Other age-related lifestyle changes, such as the death of someone close to you, moving to a new home, or adjusting to physical limitations, can bring on major stress. Stress can make it much harder to sleep and can negatively affect your health in other ways. If you are feeling the effects of stress, it’s a good idea to talk to a therapist or counselor or look into other methods of stress relief. As part of a range of benefits, stress relief will help you to sleep better.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2016 Sam Shepards

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