Getting Older Shouldn't Mean Getting Less Sleep

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 18, 2005 | Go to article overview

Getting Older Shouldn't Mean Getting Less Sleep


Byline: Jane Oppermann

If you're over 50 and married, chances are you aren't sleeping with your spouse ... or at least not for all of the night. Don't blame it on marital discord. The culprit, most likely, is sleep, or the lack of it.

"After 50 the risk of one bed partner with a sleep disorder is really high. Very often the partner ends up in another bed," noted Andrew Mouton, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and sleep specialist at Edward Hospital's Sleep Center in Naperville.

Snoring, insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and getting up frequently to go to the bathroom all team up to make those 40 winks just a dream for older folks. And while poor sleep once was thought to be a normal part of aging, health experts say it's not something to take lying down.

"Having trouble falling asleep at night is a very common part of aging, but it's not normal," Mouton said. "Older people still need the sleep, but there are all those things that will sabotage it. The problem is that after 50, your risk of insomnia, snoring and sleep apnea goes up. The good news is that all these things are very treatable and manageable."

We need the same amount of sleep our entire lives to feel refreshed and rested. And though the amount varies with each person, an average of seven to eight hours does the trick for most folks. The problem is that sleeping for one long stretch of time becomes more difficult as we age. Studies show that younger adults might wake about five times a night. But some people over age 60 might wake as often as 150 times during the night, reported the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Since the most restorative phase happens when we are in our deepest levels of sleep and since that slow-wave sleep decreases as we age, waking us more frequently during the night, there's little wonder why most of us operate with a sleep deficit. But sooner or later, it's pay-back time.

"Sleep debt is a real thing. And just like the tax man, it will demand to be paid," said Kelly Holt, a registered nurse and director of the sleep center at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village.

Sleep disorders in older people have been associated with memory problems, depression and an increased risk of accidental falls. They can cause nervous system problems and compromise the immune system. There's even some research linking sleep disorders to heart problems, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

More than half of all people over age 65 experience sleep problems, with insomnia affecting about one-third of older Americans, reported the International Longevity Center in its 2003 report "Sleep, Health and Aging. …

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