The verdict’s in: getting enough good sleep every night is vital for a long, healthy life. It’s one of the best choices seniors can make for their health. Unfortunately, sleep problems plague seniors right when they begin to need sleep most. According the National Sleep Foundation, the prevalence of sleep disorders increases with age.
Sleep problems in seniors is a well-researched subject. If you’re experiencing poor sleep, there may be several reasons, including lifestyle changes, physical or psychiatric illnesses, or medication complications. Don’t rely on counting sheep; some easy interventions and practices may be able to help you get back to dreamland, and extend your life in the process.
Common Sleep Problems in Seniors
1. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing becomes interrupted during sleep, causing the body to rouse into lighter sleep for long enough to begin breathing again. The most common form of apnea is obstructive apnea, in which the muscles of the throat relax and allow the tongue to fall into the back of the throat, blocking air flow. In serious cases of sleep apnea, this process can happen multiple times in a single minute!
Sleep apnea occurs more often in overweight people. Seniors, who are prone to more sedentary lifestyles and accompanying weight issues, may be vulnerable to developing this disorder.
There are several interventions to sleep apnea. In cases in which weight is the primary issue, it’s a good idea to work with your doctor to resolve your weight issues. Your doctor can also provide you information about a CPAP—Continuous Positive Airway Pressure—device. A CPAP pressurizes the air inside your body, which prevents the tongue from falling into the back of the throat. While some people balk at the discomfort—CPAPs involve masks that fit over your face while you sleep—the device can make a huge difference in your quality of sleep!
2. Enlarged Prostate
For men over 50, an enlarged prostate—also called benign prostate hyperplasia, or BHP—often becomes a problem. The prostate is a gland located underneath the bladder in men, and the urethra runs through it. As the prostate swells, it exerts pressure on the bladder. Put simply, that means you have to go. A lot. Trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night are a prime reason for interrupted sleep!
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, BPH affects as many as 50 percent of men between the ages of 51 and 60, and up to 90 percent of men older than 80. That’s a lot of sleepless nights! If you find yourself making frequent trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night, see your doctor. He or she can prescribe medications that will help and recommend lifestyle changes, like reducing liquid intake before bed and exercising the pelvic floor muscles.
Like prostate enlargement, menopause is a sex-specific issue. All women begin to experience hormonal changes in their 40s, 50s, and 60s that reduce estrogen in the body. In combination, symptoms can cause some serious sleeplessness. Hot flashes, or times during which body temperature spikes without any external cause, can interrupt even the deepest sleep. Mood issues like anxiety and depression can also cause irregular sleep patterns and insomnia during menopause.
When you see your doctor to ease your menopause symptoms, he or she may prescribe rounds of hormone therapy. Some nutritional products, like calcium and vitamin D, can also help. Prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids and other interventions, like regular exercise and soothing bedtime routines, may also be a good idea.
We’ve all experienced them: nagging worries that keep us up at night. But people who suffer from clinical anxiety experience these worries much more frequently, and severely, than the average bear. Anxiety is a problem at any age, and if you’re losing a lot of sleep due to problems you can’t stop thinking about, you may be wrestling with it.
Luckily, the medical community is beginning to understand more about anxiety, how it works in the brain, and how to treat it. If you believe you may be experiencing clinical anxiety, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. He or she may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety medications that can help the condition. You can also make lifestyle changes that will help you sleep, like sticking to a calming bedtime routine and turning all screens off a few hours before bed.
5. Sleep Cycle Changes
In older adults, the circadian rhythm—the chemical cascade that tells our bodies when to wake up and when to sleep—can alter. The National Sleep Foundation says that seniors “show an increase in the time it takes to fall asleep (sleep latency), an overall decline in REM sleep, and an increase in sleep fragmentation (waking up during the night).” As a result, seniors may wake up very frequently, never attaining the deep REM sleep necessary for true rest. They also may experience “advanced sleep phase syndrome,” which shifts the sleep cycle back by a few hours and makes people wake up unusually early.
The reasons for these changes aren’t entirely clear. The problems we’ve outlined above are contributing factors, as are habits like daytime napping. But if you’re experiencing sleep problems for reasons you just can’t figure out, you’re not alone. See your doctor. He or she may prescribe a sleep aid, or may suggest light therapy to regulate your circadian rhythm.
Lifestyle Tips for Good Sleep
Believe it or not, you really do have a lot of control over the quality of your sleep. Common habits like an after-dinner drink or a large evening meal can contribute to poor sleep quality. So do screens like the ones on your TV or phone—they emit blue light that fools the body into thinking it’s dawn, and time to wake up. You can take control over your sleep problems by making these simple changes:
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, especially before bed
- Turn off all devices with screens two hours before bed
- Eat a light meal in the evenings
- Exercise each day, even if you just take a walk
- Enjoy a relaxing bedtime ritual, like taking a bath or reading a book
Health Insurance for Better Sleep
You wouldn’t think that access to affordable health insurance has much to do with sleep, would you? But it does. In one study, seniors with access to quality healthcare were 84% more likely to report good sleep! Basic preventive care can help seniors avoid the health problems that lead to bad sleep, and having a good doctor who knows you well gives you an opportunity to talk about sleep problems and fix them as they arise.
With the Affordable Care Act, preventive care and basic wellness visits are free or inexpensive with all individual health plans, like those we provide at HealthMarkets Insurance Agency. In other words, you won’t have to pay your deductible in order to obtain access to the preventive care that can help you sleep better at night, and you may not even have to pay a copay or coinsurance!
HealthMarkets can help you rest easy with a personal health insurance plan that offers the preventive services you need to ensure proper sleep. We have more than 3,000 licensed agents who are ready to take your phone call and answer all your insurance questions. Give us a call today at (800) 827-9990.