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Why Do Seniors Sleep So Much?


Alissa Sauer

We’ve all seen our senior loved one sleeping through a family gathering, going to bed earlier, resting more. So, what is it about aging that brings more sleep? And, is it healthy to sleep that much? Learn more about how sleep benefits seniors and how to help your loved one maintain healthy sleep habits through age.

Benefits of Sleep for Seniors

Getting a good night’s rest is vital to good health and wellness at any age but the importance of sleep grows increasingly important as we age. Here are 10 benefits of sleep for seniors.

1. Decreases risk of dementia

Researchers believe that while we sleep the brain has a “waste removal” system that removes toxins in the brain, keeping our brains healthy. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that sleep duration is crucial to preventing dementia and even premature death. Study authors conclude, “Given the beneficial effects of physical activity on risk of sleep disturbance, these findings indicate that not only maintenance of appropriate sleep duration, but also modification of lifestyle behaviors related to sleep may be an effective strategy for preventing dementia and premature death in elderly adults.”

2. Improves immune system

Sleep gives our bodies time to rest and fight viruses and infections that may be plaguing us instead of giving energy to all the other things our bodies need to do while we are awake. Rest is vital to staying healthy from viruses and colds since a lack of sleep suppresses the function of the immune system. Not only does sleep help prevent illness, but it also influences how we fight colds and viruses after we have them. Sleep allows our bodies to fight sickness best.

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3. Increases emotional well-being

We’ve all seen a tired toddler. The effect that lack of sleep has on kids, is the same in adults and even in seniors. We may react differently to situations than a small child, but a lack of sleep makes us more irritable than if we had a good night’s rest.

4. Repairs damaged cells and tissues

Whether it’s the brain or an injury, rest gives our bodies the time it needs to heal. When we sleep, our body goes to work repairing the damage the day has brought. Our bodies are able to rest on all other tasks and devote its energy to repair and restoration.

5. Increases longevity

Too much or too little sleep is associated with a shower lifespan. One of the largest studies done on the relationship between sleep and longevity found that sleeping more than seven hours and less than five and half hours decreases longevity.

6. Reduces inflammation

Inflammation in the body is linked to chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia. Sleep has been shown to reduce inflammatory proteins that are linked to these conditions.

7. Increases creativity

Creativity is crucial to healthy aging. From painting to writing and singing, creativity is a great outlet for seniors to express themselves, even if illness makes self-expression difficult. When we sleep, our brains reorganize and restructures memories and skills, resulting in more creativity and a new perspective.

8. Helps to maintain a healthy weight

Sleep has been linked to maintaining a healthy weight. Because sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same areas of the brain, hormones that make us sleepy are the same hormones drive the appetite. A study from the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost 56% more fat than participants who were sleep deprived and lost more muscle mass.

9. Lowers stress

Sleep is a great way to lower stress. Having a regular sleep routine can calm the body, improve concentration, regulate your mood, and even improve decision making. Sleep makes us better problem solvers, and we can handle the stress and anxiety from the day better with a good night’s rest. Cognitive impairments from lack of sleep can give way to impaired job performance and relationship issues, causing stress.

10. Reduces falls and accidents

Sleepiness is an underrated problem with a huge cost. In fact, being tired behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as having an alcoholic drink and driving. A lack of sleep can decrease situational awareness and reflexes, causing falls and traffic accidents which can lead to more health problems in seniors.

Seniors and Daytime Naps

The benefits of healthy sleep for seniors is extensive and while it may seem like seniors sleep more than the rest of the general population,  the truth is that most seniors are getting less sleep than necessary during nighttime hours. Seniors, like younger adults, need 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night but most seniors are not getting that amount of sleep, leading to more daytime naps. So, what is keeping our senior loved ones from getting the right amount of sleep at night?

Studies show that seniors take longer to fall asleep, show a decline in REM sleep, and wake more often during the night. In fact, 44% of seniors report experiencing one or more of the symptoms of insomnia. Additionally, seniors are more likely to have sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and even excessive snoring. However, other research suggests that medication prescribed to seniors for physical and psychiatric illnesses plays a large role in nighttime sleep disturbances.

Because many seniors are not getting quality sleep at night, many try and make up for their lack of sleep during the day.

Tips for Healthy Senior Sleep Habits

There’s no question that sleep is a major factor in health and wellness for seniors. So, how do you ensure your loved one is getting enough quality sleep at night? These tips can help set the right environment to improve rest and relaxation.

  • Exercise regularly, but not before bedtime.
  • Reduce caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon.
  • Review medications to determine if any are inhibiting sleep.
  • Modify the environment for better sleep to include blackout curtains, a sound machine, and a comfortable temperature.
  • Reduce screen time before bed, limiting blue light exposure.
  • Spend more time outside during the day.
  • Limit fluid intake before bed, especially alcohol.
  • Avoid irregular naps during the day.
  • Take a melatonin supplement.
  • See a medical professional to rule out any potential sleep disorders.

How do you manage your sleep schedule? Have you seen the negative effects of sleep deprivation in yourself or a loved one? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

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