Jan 11, 2019
How well and how much we sleep has great influence on the quality of our life. The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person but on average adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
We each have a natural rhythm that guides our need for sleep called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep. It is guided by environmental factors such as sunlight and temperature. Sleeping in sync with this rhythm is important for healthy sleep.
As we age our circadian rhythm changes, and our sleep patterns change. For example, you may find that you feel sleepy earlier in the evening as you get older. Although sleep patterns change, the amount of sleep we need does not decrease.
The level of rest you actually achieve during sleep is linked to two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. There are three stages to NREM sleep: your eyes close but you can easily wake up, then you fall into a light sleep, and finally you are in a deep sleep. If someone were to wake you at the final stage of NREM you might feel disoriented for a few moments. REM sleep usually happens after 90 minutes of being asleep. It is during REM sleep that we tend to dream because the brain is more active. We cycle through NREM and REM every 90 minutes. As we age we tend to sleep more lightly and therefore get a less restful sleep. This happens because our body chemistry changes. One of these changes is less melatonin (a hormone that promotes sleep) is secreted as we age.
If you have trouble sleeping it is important to identify the underlying problem(s). Many sleep problems are caused by treatable issues. Common causes of insomnia and sleep disturbances include:
- Poor sleep habits and sleep environment – having a regular sleeping routine where you go to bed and wake the same time each night and day can help improve sleep. Consuming alcohol may seem like it helps increase sleepiness, but it actually disrupts your sleep pattern.
- Pain or medical conditions – If you are in pain it can keep you from the deep sleep you need. Some health issues that may interfere with your sleep include arthritis, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis, nighttime heartburn, menopause, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Medications – medications and their side effects can impair sleep.
- Lack of exercise – if you are sedentary it may cause you to not feel sleepy or cause excessive sleepiness. Regular exercise during the day can improve your sleeping habits.
- Psychological stress or psychological disorders – life changes such as death of a loved one, moving from the family home, or having been hospitalized can cause stress and anxiety which can impair your sleep.
- Sleep disorders – snoring and sleep apnea occur more frequently as we age.
Keeping a sleep journal will help you determine how best to help yourself. You’ll want to keep track of when you sleep and how rested you feel or don’t. It’s also good to keep track of when you use alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. You’ll want to note the medications you use, when and how you exercise, any lifestyle changes, and recent stressors. If you are unable to resolve your sleep problems by yourself your doctor may be able to help. You may want to share your sleep journal with your doctor so he or she can better help you.