Sleep problems that crop up as you age

Your sleep changes throughout your life and while some of the most dramatic changes occur in your 20s, as you

Your sleep changes throughout your life and while some of the most dramatic changes occur in your 20s, as you reach older adulthood there are some common sleep themes that tend to arise.

You might have noticed a decrease in your ability to fall asleep, you might be waking up still tired, or you are snoring. Approximately 71 per cent of 55 to 64 year olds report similar problems.

About a year ago the National Sleep Foundation developed a customised sleep proposal for adults over the age of 50, after it found that sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health.

According to the research, if you’re aged between 55 and 64 you should be looking to get between seven and nine hours’ sleep each night, but those aged 65 years and older can get away with between seven and eight hours of sleep each night.


It might not seem like a big issue, but depending on your symptoms — you could be excessively sleepy during the day or you become irritable, unfocussed and achy — medication, lifestyle changes and even cognitive therapy can help.

NSF ecological researcher Natalie Dautovich says there are about six circumstances common among the 50-plus age group that are affecting the way you get your rest.

Bedtime and wake-up time move earlier

For get about your younger days when you felt rebellious staying up into the wee hours and sleeping all day. In this later stage of your life you’ll be lucky to make it past the 6pm news. Your circadian rhythm is delayed until your 20s, which means you genuinely don’t get tired until later in the evening. However, after you come out of this stage the rhythms keep progressing, which is what causes you to drop off your perch earlier in the evening and will have you feeling most cautious, therefore rising earlier, in the morning.

You wake up more during the night

If you’ve been jolted out of your slumber and have found yourself staring at the cracks in your ceiling endlessly, you’re not alone. According to sleep specialist and sleep doctor Michael Breus PhD it’s because the extent of your brain waves is changing.

Breus says that to be classified as deep, restful, restorative sleep, brain waves have to reach a certain height, and once you hit age 50 the spikes just don’t get high enough.

Unfortunately, lighter sleep is a lot easier to disturb, which is why you’re often waking up in the middle of the night. A bump here, a creak there, even a little bit of indigestion can have you bright-eyed and bushy tailed when you’d rather be catching zees.

You can’t ignore a nature call

The NSF says around 53 per cent of adults aged 55 to 84 years will get up to use the toilet every night or almost nightly. Of course not being able to achieve a deep sleep could be the reason you are now more aware of your urge to wee, but Dautovich says another reason is tied to your nerves not functioning as well as they did in your youth.

You should be able to drop off to sleep again within 10 minutes of going to the toilet, but if you can’t Dautovich recommends you discuss it with your doctor.

You are having a hot flush… Over and over again

If you think this is just for the ladies, you could be wrong, as some men also suffer the symptoms of menopause with their wife. It seems the hormonal silliness that comes with menopause can also affect your sleep.

Dautovich says the estrogen and progesterone fluctuations you experience and the unbearable hot flushes can not only make it difficult to achieve a deep sleep, but it can also wake you up. A recommendation that could help conquer (or at least relieve) the discomfort of a hot flush is to sleep in breathable fabrics and layer sheets and covers on the bed so that you can toss them off when it gets a bit warm.

You’re wheezing or snoring

Carrying a few extra kilos? That weight can lead to wheezing and snoring and if your windpipe narrows too much it can become blocked leading you to stop breathing periodically throughout the night. These symptoms are most common in men, but after menopause is when women will most likely experience them.

Let’s not forget that if you have a partner who wheezes or snores you are likely to lose at least an hour of sleep each night according to Breus, but the decision on whether to sleep in separate bedrooms is entirely up to you.

You have a greater risk of restless legs

Restless leg syndrome is a sleep-related disorder best known for its overwhelming and often unpleasant urge to move the legs while at rest. Although it’s less common you can get symptoms in the arms, face, torso and genital region.

Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you getting enough rest at night?

  1. i cant get to sleep till gone midnite no matter what i do . then im awake at 6/7am

  2. Paula  

    I will have a few sips of water after cleaning my teeth before going to bed at 8.30 and I will wake for a wee 3 or 4 times during the night……sooo annoying!

  3. If you consume something allergenic with the evening meal you have a very good chance of not sleeping well. An allergic reaction activates the fight-or-flight response and the body speeds up, tenses up and becomes generally very alert. The sudden flood of epinephrine, norepinephrine and dozens of other hormones causes changes in the body that include:
    heart rate and blood pressure increase
    pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
    veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the “chill” sometimes associated with fear — less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
    blood-glucose level increases
    muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps — when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
    smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs
    nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions
    trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)

    All of these physical responses are intended to help you survive a dangerous situation by preparing you to either run for your life or fight for your life (thus the term “fight or flight”). Fear — and the fight-or-flight response in particular — is an instinct that every animal possesses.your life (thus the term “fight or flight”). Fear — and the fight-or-flight response in particular — is an instinct that every animal possesses.
    Trying to get to sleep is futile under these circumstances.
    The most allergenic substance is dairy and best avoided totally. Dairy products are associated with a list of diseases as long as your arm. People should not have the need to be wet nursed by a cow in adulthood.

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