Sleep: how it changes as you age
1. We still need the same amount of sleep
You may have been told that the amount of sleep that you need decreases as you get older, but this is not the case. All adults require eight hours of sleep per night, but changes in our sleep patterns as we age mean that this may be more difficult for the elderly.
2. Our sleep patterns change
As we age, we find it harder to sleep at the "normal time". Instead we sleep more lightly than when we were younger, meaning that we are more likely to feel more tired during the day.
3. Our bodies can affect our sleep
As we get older, our sleep can be affected by changes in our bodies. Sleeping patterns among the elderly can be affected by medical conditions that include arthritis, reflux, sleep apnoea, depression and heart failure. Medications used to treat these conditions can also have an impact on our sleep quality as we get older.
4. A lack of sleep can affect our bodies
While medical conditions can affect our sleep levels as we age, it works the other way round, too little sleep can also cause health problems. Sleep deprivation among the elderly can not only increase the risk of injuries caused by tiredness, but a continued lack of sleep can also lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It can also cause mental changes, such as confusion, which can have a negative impact on health.
5. Life situations can affect sleeping patterns
Events such as the death of a loved one or moving from employment into retirement can have a negative effect on our sleep as we become older. Whether caused by stress or a change in lifestyle, there are things that can be done to get sleeping patterns back on track.
6. Daytime sleeping is more likely
The combination of "lighter" sleep at night, health conditions, changes in our bodies and getting up during the night to drink or to use the bathroom means that many elderly people will choose to catch up on sleep during the day. While this ensures that an adequate number of sleeping hours is obtained, it will also mean that there is no real routine to stick to, making it harder to get back to normal sleeping patterns.
7. Make it easier to stick to a routine
There are plenty of ways in which the elderly can improve their sleeping patterns. Ensuring that the bedroom is a relaxing place, getting regular exercise when possible and avoiding too much artificial light at night may help - along with limiting caffeine, alcohol, large meals and spicy food before bed.
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