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Improving Sleep Among Older Adults

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Improving Sleep Among Older Adults


With age comes so many biological changes. There’s the vulnerability to chronic age-related medical conditions, increasing physical limitations and disability, cognitive issues, empty nest syndrome, and emotional conditions. It is, therefore, not surprising that many older adults sleep less, worrying a lot of things. A shift in their biological clock or circadian rhythm may also trigger insomnia.

Like any person, seniors need quality, nightly sleep of seven to nine hours. According the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), however, “it can be harder for men and women ages 65+ years to stay asleep throughout the night.” Sleeplessness can be triggered by lots of possible causes. The NSF says that the sleep disorder is usually insomnia, “a very common sleep issue that affects almost 50 percent of adults 60 and over.”

If you are experiencing sleeplessness and it is leaving you feeling tired during the day, it is important to see a professional counselor or therapist. It must not be ignored because it could be a symptom of another medical or emotional condition. Lack of sleep can affect your emotional and physical health.


Aging and Insomnia

Aging does not diminish your need for good sleep. You have many reasons to worry about what may keep you awake at night. If this happens night after night, you could run the risk of insomnia. Insomnia has loose meanings, usually being described in relation to its effects on the health of the one struggling with it.  

In simple terms insomnia is defined by NSF as “difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so.” In technical terms, it is a sleep disorder that is persistent and accompanied by an altered functioning during the day. This means that your can experience sleep-related issues, such as exhaustion, poor concentration, boredom, distressing disposition, irritability, poor drive, and bodily pain and poor sense of balance.

Why are older adults vulnerable to insomnia? Like everything else in the body that has reached so many decades, the sleep-related processes and functions can decline over time. Aging can affect the amount of melatonin secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is the hormone that harmonizes circadian rhythms in the varied parts of your body. With reduced melatonin, your circadian rhythm can be off, your daytime alertness impaired and night sleep detrimentally affected.


The Whys and Wherefores of Insomnia in Seniors

The NSF studies show that a number of issues can cause sleeplessness or insomnia in seniors. It can be a primary condition, but often, it is an indication of another medical or emotional condition. It can be induced by many factors, such as:


  • Medical issues: There are conditions, such as prostate enlargement, that can disturb sleep, waking up several times during the night to urinate. Digestive and respiratory issues, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, etc. may similarly cause you to wake up often at night.


  • Emotional conditions:  Being affected by an emotional condition can imbue you with negative feelings, causing sleep to be elusive desire. Depression, anxiety, mood disorder, etc. can cause you to feel intensely sad, scared, paranoid, and/or stressed. Without sleep, these conditions may worsen.


  • Drugs or food: These have chemical components that may interact and alter bodily processes and reactions. Taking stimulants just before bedtime may activate the body, so that it isn’t ready to “sleep.” They can have a diuretic effect, keeping you awake to flush your body fluids. Consuming alcohol and foods laden with fats can also disrupt sleep.


  • Poor sleeping habits: Sleeping habit that affects the body’s biological clock can be considered unhealthy. These can confuse your circadian rhythm, so it could not tell when to sleep and when to stay awake. Some poor sleeping habits are watching TV or working out before bedtime.


  • Unhealthy sleeping environment: Forty winks would be hard to come by if the place you are about to sleep in is unfamiliar or it is not an ideal environment for sleeping. If the place is noisy, hot, without a comfortable bed/mattress, or it is poorly secured, you may not achieve the optimum hours of quality sleep.


  • Modified lifestyle: With retirement, chronic medical conditions and concerns, older adults commonly modify their routines. Needing to have some physical activity, they can go on long walks at night. Studies reveal that some factors that may trigger or exacerbate insomnia, such as poor mobility, diminished social exchanges, and loss of their spouses/partners.


The Red Flags to Spot  

“Counting sheep” at night isn’t something unusual. It happens to all people regardless of age. When sleeplessness, however, is already a case of insomnia that is persistent, it should not be disregarded. It can be a debilitating condition, especially for seniors who have diminished strength and have complicated medical and emotional conditions.

If you often find yourself tossing and turning in your bed for at least three nights a week and for a few months, consult a professional now. Intermittent insomnia is the type that can last for days to a few months. Chronic insomnia is the type that may last for several months, and even years if left untreated. Spotting the symptoms may not be that easy.

Some recognizable “night symptoms” could be taking a long time (30-45 minutes) to fall asleep, difficulty staying asleep, inability to go back to sleep, not having dreams, sadness, and night accidents or falls. “Day symptoms” include feeling committing mistakes and figuring in accidents because of drowsiness and poor focus. They may also feel irritable, forgetful, distressed, and exhausted.


The Dangers of Untreated Insomnia in Seniors

Insomnia is never good, especially for people in their twilight years, like you. Intermittent insomnia can deteriorate to become the chronic type, if it will not be promptly treated, resulting to extensive health issues. One long-term issue is the development of residual sleep deprivation. It can lead to profound emotional and physical health problems, as well as exhaustion and poor concentration. These can cause you to have accidents and poor health.  

Lack of sleep is known to affect the delicate health of seniors in many ways. With insomnia, you can develop endocrine, cardiovascular, nervous, and immune system issues. You can also compensate lack of sleep by eating more food, increasing your risk for obesity. It can also intensify pain if you have fibromyalgia and/or osteoarthritis because insomnia can reduce your body’s ability to regulate pain signals.


Dreaming Dreams Again as You Age

You deserve to have quality sleep night after night, even in your later years. Contrary to what is commonly believed, aging and insomnia don’t go together like a “horse and carriage.” This means sleeping well for seven to nine hours at night. If you are sleeping less, you should be worried. Why? It can increase your vulnerability to a lot of medical and emotional conditions. It can also result in your being more prone to accidents. If you wish to restore your health, start by sleeping well.

Insomnia is treatable. One way to end insomnia is by seeking help from an experienced counselor/therapist independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services – Pinehurst, NC. Counseling/Therapy can help unravel the cause of your sleeplessness. It can also be a productive approach in modifying your lifestyle and improving your “sleep hygiene.” If insomnia is a symptom of depression, anxiety or other emotional or behavioral conditions, it is important to treat these underlying conditions first.

If you are ready to visit “dreamland” again, have your insomnia treated. Call CCS – Pinehurst today!

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Pinehurst, NC

Counties: Moore county, NC, Lee County, Hoke County, Chatham County

Areas: Pinehurst NC, West End NC, Taylortown NC, Seven Lakes NC, Eagle Springs NC, Jackson Springs NC, Foxfire NC, Candor NC, Norman NC, Ellerbe NC, Rockingham NC

Zip Codes: 27281, 27376, 28315, 28347, 28350, 28373, 28374, 28387, 28388, 28394

Kelly ErkenBrack, LCSW

Specializes in: (Ages 3+) Children, Teens, Adults, Couples and Families. Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Loss, Mood Disorders, Trauma, Adjustments and Life Transitions, ADHD, Behavioral Issues, Parenting, Relationship Concerns, Self Esteem
Insurance: BCBSTricare Prime/Select, Medicare and Cash
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Location: Pinehurst, NC

Robin Caswell, MSW, LCSW

Specializes in: (Ages 5+), Individuals, Adults, Anxiety, Depression, Grief, Loss, ADHD, ODD, Trauma/PTSD, LGBTQ, Self-Harm, Military Family Life, Mood Disorders, OCD, Phobias
Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Medicare and Cash
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Location: Pinehurst, NC

Counseling Information

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Carolina Counseling Services – Pinehurst, NC

45 Dowd Circle Suite 5
PinehurstNC 28374

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PO BOX 9909
Fayetteville, NC 28311