Insomnia As We Age
It is important to know that many of us will face an increased risk of insomnia as we age. Insomnia is typically defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep, and persistent insomnia disorder is a severe condition where insomnia occurs at least three nights per week over the course of at least one month. Persistent insomnia disorder is considerably rarer than milder forms of insomnia, but these still constitute the most common sleep disorder. Other sleeping disorders can exacerbate the effects of insomnia; in any case, older adults are often polarized between increased sleeping trouble and higher rates of sleeping well.
People who suffer from insomnia often feel distressed, tired, unfocused, and/or drained during the day. The concentration problems, plus the side effects of some medications, can put people at a higher risk of accidents when operating machinery. Insomnia can also exacerbate depression, anxiety, memory problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes or result in part from them. In other words, insomnia can have a serious negative impact on your quality of life and require medical consultation. Identifying stressors can help you determine whether your insomnia is circumstantial or chronic, but treatment becomes more complicated when other conditions factor into it.
This article will explain how insomnia in older adults originates and what you can do to treat it. In general, developing healthy habits is a gradual but effective process that can help you treat even persistent insomnia –albeit more gradually than the temporary variety. It is important to be persistent – don’t give up if you don’t see immediate improvement, because doing so piles on more stress that contributes to insomnia counterproductively. Once you have had a good night’s sleep, though, the positive health effects will make consistent sleep a much easier habit to uphold.
Causes of Insomnia as We Age
Aging often causes changes in adults’ circadian rhythms so that they feel tired in the evening, wake up early in the morning, and do not sleep as deeply as before. Many people who start experiencing insomnia in old age simply have difficulty adjusting to this change, while others have to exacerbate conditions they are also more likely to experience in old age. Sleep apnea (a common difficulty with breathing during sleep) and restless leg syndrome (a considerably less common condition that causes itchiness and unease) are sleeping disorders that can result in insomnia. Sleep disruptions may also result from cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal issues, plus the aforementioned temporary and persistent mental health issues.
Medication side effects can be an especially troublesome cause of insomnia because you might be taking them for more pressing health issues or even insomnia itself. With help from your doctor, you can find alternatives to current non-insomnia medications or specific insomnia treatments that work alongside them. However, sleeping pills can worsen cognitive problems and taper off from them can take considerable time; people trying to quit may return to having insomnia without them. It is best to use insomnia medications only with the advice of a medical professional after other steps have failed.
Finally, daily habits can have a considerable effect on sleeping patterns. Daytime naps, caffeine, smoking, business, and screen time can have the effect of keeping you awake –often especially if you participate in these activities in your bedroom and consequently associate them. In those cases, falling asleep can be difficult because you have come to think of your room as an active space where your trouble sleeping is now ingrained. Limiting your engagements in these habits or moving them elsewhere can become a straightforward way to fall asleep, if not stay asleep, much easier. The next section will describe various other steps you can take to treat insomnia in the long term.
Effective Insomnia Treatments
As mentioned, medication is typically a last resort for treating insomnia; the most common treatments involve different types of therapy or habits. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy allows patients to avoid negative thought patterns, relax, and learn behaviors conducive to sleep. Oftentimes, it involves sticking to a sleep pattern matching your circadian rhythm –even if getting into the pattern means giving up naps or initially facing resistance from your brain accustomed to insomnia. 7 to 9 hours is still a healthy amount of sleep for early adults. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also encourage you to develop a pre-sleep routine that signals to your brain that it is time to fall asleep.
Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to effectively treat insomnia, and many senior centers offer it. Since the techniques focus on relieving anxiety, they naturally work on insomnia affected by temporary stress. Since patients with insomnia have been shown to have more excitable brain activity, processing the world around you can either satisfy your state of unrest or keep you too aware to fall asleep. In any case, a change of scenery sometimes helps; depending on whether routine or changes cause you anxiety, sleeping in another room occasionally or moving your activities outside your bedroom can keep you at ease with your surroundings.
Exercise and sleep hygiene are other recommended techniques that may run the risk of worsening insomnia if completed too soon before bed. Prepare yourself psychologically before moving into a set sleep schedule with various sleep hygiene techniques, because overthinking will make things more difficult. It is also important to note that not all sleep hygiene techniques work uniformly – circadian rhythms vary greatly, as do preferences for light or darkness during sleep. Also, it can take several months for exercise to relieve chronic anxiety and it is better done during the day to give your body time to process it; since seniors require quality exercise just as they require quality sleep, combining the two can become a positive feedback loop.
The reason that many seniors conversely report sleeping well is that they have had a long time to learn their personal sleep requirements. Since good and bad health choices positively correspond to your health’s improvement or decline, on the whole, overcoming insomnia with the above techniques can ease your mood and mental and physical health.
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