How does sleep change
as we age?
After age 30 deep sleep
begins to be replaced by longer periods of lighter sleep. In older
people the sleep pattern is characterized by reduced amounts of
slow wave sleep (NREM), increased periods of wakefulness, and
more frequent awakenings. Older adults are sleepier in the daytime
because often they are unable to get sufficient sleep at night.
A newborn spends about
50% of sleep time in REM sleep. In adults, about 20% of sleep
time is spent in REM sleep, and 80% in NREM sleep.
The time spent in stages 3 & 4 NREM sleep
appears to determine the adequacy of rest. Aging affects the ability
to enter into deep sleep stages 3 & 4. It is the quality of
rest that diminishes, not the need.
Researchers, and laboratory analyses of human
sleep rhythms, have documented the following changes in sleep
patterns in older people:
Increase in stage-one sleep (light sleep), less stage-three
and stage-four sleep (i.e. deep sleep).
marginally less rapid eye movement sleep (dream sleep).
the first REM sleep periods come faster than in earlier
a reduction in REM later in the aging process.
Higher incidence of sleep apnea & myoclonic jerk.
Research suggests that older men tend
to have more passive, inner-directed dreams, while older
women tend to dream more active, outgoing dreams.
Decrease in sleep efficiency ( the amount
of time spent in actual sleep related to the amount of
time spent in bed).
Increase in number of naps taken during the
Increased sleepiness during the day (
shortened sleep onset latency).
Change of bedtime and awakening time to
earlier hours, and an increase in awakenings during the
This means that as you age you get less quality rest (stage 3&4
sleep), wake up earlier, and spend more time in bed in order to
get the rest you need.
No wonder then that, as we age, the mind can
get less alert during the day (symptoms of old-age are attributable
to a large degree to loss of quality sleep). Recent data suggests
that 70 million Americans may suffer from either chronic sleep
disorder, or intermittent sleep deprivation.
However, it's important to remember that
many healthy elderly individuals have no, or few, sleep problems.
Nor is insomnia, trouble falling asleep at night, or frequent
drowsing by day inevitable with increasing age.
what are the causes of these changes in the sleep pattern?
Sleep is an active state with many different
components in a neurological sense. There are many ways in which
sleep can be disordered, either by disease or dysfunction of the
nervous system, and/or of the mind.
Sleep may be disrupted by:
Changes in one's circadian rhythm (biological
clock). Circadian rhythms are biological
cycles of about 24 hours that include sleep/wake, body temperature
and melatonin secretion cycles. The sleep/wake cycle is controlled
by our biological clock. The average younger adult gets sleepy at
around 10 or 11 PM and sleeps for 8 to 9 hours, waking between 6
to 8 AM. As we age, our circadian clock advances, causing advanced
sleep phase syndrome. People with this syndrome get sleepy early
in the evening (around 8 or 9 PM). If they were to go to bed at
that time, they would sleep for about 8 hours and wake up 4 to 5
AM. However, when they try to stay up to 10-11 PM, their bodies
still wake up at 4 to 5 AM. This means they only get 5-6 hours of
sleep, the amount of time they were in bed before their advanced
sleep -wake cycle wakes them up.
The elderly generally secrete lesser
amounts of certain chemicals that regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
Both melatonin (a substance produced by the pineal gland
that promotes sleep and influences the sleep biological clock)
and human growth hormone (HGH) production decrease with age. HGH,
another hormone required for sound sleep, is an essential ingredient
for maintenance of bone and muscle tissue as well as for cell
growth. Production of these hormones takes place when the brain
goes into certain theta and delta levels while in sleep. However,
with aging, the brain achieves these brain patterns with less
regularity, so normal production gets disrupted.
Rise in levels of the stress hormone,
cortisol , in the evenings, adds to the reduction
in abilty to enter theta wave stage.
There are also changes in the body
temperature cycle, which occur with age.
In addition, decrease in exposure
to natural light and a change in diet may compound
sleep difficulties. Bright, natural light is considered essential
for proper functioning of the circadian rhythm.
Lack of exercise and decreased mental
stimulation may also lead to sleep defiency. We
Tibetan Technique daily,
to keep ourselves youthful and lithe.
Medical problems that include arthritis,
heartburn, osteoporosis, and heart and lung disease, may
also interrupt, delay, or abbreviate sleep. Everyday ailments
like headaches, muscle aches, leg cramps, and sinus pain disturb
our rest more often as we age. Consult with your doctor. Medication
may also become necessary in cases of intense pain from Arthritis,
requiring immediate relief.
Drugs prescribed to
treat medical conditions can occasionally result in sleep loss.
Physical changes associated with
aging may also play a role. Aches and pains may
lengthen the time it takes to fall asleep...and interrupt sleep
thereafter. An aging bladder leads to the need to use the bathroom
more frequently at night.
Poor sleep habits.
including stress, depression, anxiety, alcoholism or drug abuse
can result in loss of sleep. All of these conditions can cause
the brain to lose the ability to enter the slower brain wave patterns
of restful sleep . These patterns are where your brain and endocrine
system make the essential substances needed for youthful vitality
and well-being. These (and other) situations can cause the brain
to lose some or all of its natural plasticity - its natural ability
to easily and effortlessly change and flow into the different
patterns of electrical energy necessary for optimum sleep.
Snoring, (frequently a by-product of sleep apnea), can lead to disturbances in the sleep rhythm. But it is possible to control snoring naturally through breath control.
More information on sleep at the links below:
Sleep and Good Health
Sleep Loss &
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