Why It's Harder to Sleep As You Age

15 Things That Make It Harder to Sleep As You Get Older

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Why It's Harder to Sleep As You Age


"To sleep, perchance to dream" — or then again, maybe not. For many folks over the age of 65, there is no precious dream state because there is no decent night's sleep due to insomnia. Sleep problems are frequently observed among older adults and include waking early, taking longer to fall asleep, and frequent waking during the night. Here are some of the things that might be keeping you up at night.

Packing on the Pounds


It's inevitable — as you age, your metabolism slows, and if you don't exercise and eat right, you will gain weight. That extra padding is often associated with sleep disorders such as apnea. Johns Hopkins researchers found that losing belly fat could lead to better sleep. It also works the other way, too. A report in the International Journal of Obesity found that sleep problems likely make it harder to lose weight.

Sleep Apnea


This common condition occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep and stops airflow. Being overweight, over 40, and male increases the risk of this not-so-silent sleep-disrupting syndrome. Cardiac arrest and sudden death are two possible outcomes if not treated. Fortunately, though, it can be treated.



Oh, the fun just never stops with the Big "M." If hot flashes and mood swings aren't enough, please feel free to add insomnia to the long list of menopause-related problems. Menopausal and post-menopausal women report less satisfaction with sleep and as many as 61 percent report insomnia. Good news: If you're tossing and turning, your doctor might be able to help. The shift in sleep could be due in part to a shifting ratio of hormones and that is treatable.

Prostate Issues


As men age, their prostate gland often becomes enlarged. One common symptom of this condition, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, is a increased frequency of urination at night. Limiting fluid intake before heading to bed can help reduce the need to urinate during the night, and avoiding known diuretics such as caffeinated drinks and foods like chocolate can also help.



While snoring can occur at any stage of life, it is more common as we age. Loss of muscle tone in the throat, fat deposits around the neck, and a narrowing of the throat leave less room in the airway — hence the obnoxious nocturnal snorts. The Sleep Foundation recommends a series of oral exercises to help increase strength in and around the airway. Losing weight will also help as will playing the didgeridoo. The didgeridoo? Yes, the didgeridoo.

The Old Ticker


As we age, our heart muscle wears out — thus causing heart problems. There is a link between insomnia and chronic heart failure. Chest pain can make it difficult to relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep. And to make it worse, lying down can cause shortness of breath — which then exacerbates the problem. As a result, chronic heart failure can lead to fatigue and interrupted sleep.

Changes in Circadian Rhythm


As we age, our ability to achieve deep sleep is limited. This is one reason why older people spend less time in bed. The circadian function decays with aging. Think of it as a dynamic clock — an ever-changing rhythm in our behavior, physiology, and metabolism. Patterns in this rhythm change as we age making it harder to sleep.

Acid Reflux


It's no fun having heartburn; it's worse when you can't sleep because of it. Unfortunately there's a dangerous cycle here worth noting. Yes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes sleep disturbance, but sleep deprivation also makes GERD worse. And it's not advisable to lie down when you have GERD. Well, that's a Catch-22, isn't it? What are you supposed to do, sleep standing up? Doctors advise limiting food intake after 7 p.m., and sticking to a bland diet.

Noise Issues


Since noise tends to disrupt sleep during the "light stage" of sleep and since seniors already have trouble reaching that "deep stage," it's no surprise that those "bumps in the night" wake seniors more than younger folks. That darned car alarm, the neighbor's barking dog, even people talking as they walk past an open window can be disruptive. If you're finding that noise is waking you before you have a chance to fall asleep, try a pair of noise-canceling plugs like these.



Getting older means parts start to wear out. Keeping them running often requires taking medication. Sure we're living longer, but we're downing prescription drug cocktails — each one with its own set of side effects. If you have, for example, an issue with your thyroid and your medicine levels haven't been adjusted, you may find yourself staring at the ceiling instead of getting a good night's rest. Always check with your doctor before starting any medication and learn about possible side effects of any new meds, especially if they're known to cause insomnia.

Limited Exposure to Sunshine


Older folks often don't get enough natural, outdoor light and sunshine. This can cause a break in the circadian rhythm, thus preventing a good night's sleep. This can be especially true for those with limited mobility or little access to the outdoors. If you're confined to a bed or wheelchair or aren't able to get the sunshine you need for other reasons, you might think about light therapy as a way to regulate your body's internal sleep clock.



As we age, certain brain functions may teeter. Our cognitive abilities diminish, which can affect the psychological and emotional well being of the elderly. Depression is often a factor in sleep problems and should be addressed. Visit a doctor to get to the root of the problem.

Restless Leg Syndrome


The rates for restless leg syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, climb after people hit 50. This annoying condition feels as if you constantly have to move your legs and can become wearisome when trying to catch some shuteye. It's thought the causes may be related to low iron levels and how iron affects dopamine levels in the brain. Doctors suggest limiting bright lights an hour before bed, taking warm baths, and drinking chamomile tea as possible drug-free options to help allieviate the symptoms.

Loss of Thermoregulation


It gets harder to stay warm as we age. That's because the body loses its ability to maintain and regulate its core temperature. This can cause a sleep disruption, either by forcing early rising or causing an inability to get to sleep at a decent time.

Mattress Problems


Aches and pains, especially joint pain, can cause sleep disturbances. As our bodies change, so should our mattresses. If you're suffering from joint pain, arthritis or any type of tension and it's disrupting your slumber, it may be time to consider getting a new mattress.