Common sleep issues in later life


Posted on: 08 September 2017 by Jeff Nevil

Some of the common sleep-related issues one can experience in later life and how to overcome these.

For an individual to operate at optimal health and wellbeing, it is essential we get a good night’s sleep, sadly, for many, this is easier said than done. A 2013 survey showed that 49% of Brits fail to do anything to improve their sleep even though, 32% of British adults suffer from a lack of sleep. What is often seen as an inactive activity, is in fact a very important and active period. During this time, the body is busy restoring, strengthening and processing information to help us recharge for the next day.

To get this crucial repairing time, it is commonly perceived that eight hours is the least amount of time one should sleep for, however this is not the case. The NHS recommend that the majority of adults need to have six to nine hours sleep. In older adults, it is common to have less deep sleep and to become sleepier earlier. These odd sleeping patterns can negatively impact moods, concentration and alertness. A more long-term sleep disorder, like insomnia, can cause more enduring health problems and a lower quality of life in the long-term.

To demonstrate how the lack of sleep can effect an individual, in 1959, a well-known American DJ Peter Tripp, managed to stay awake for 201 hours. The effects of sleep deprivation were far more dramatic than anticipated. As time went on during the study, the subject’s mood and personality had changed considerably. He began insulting his friends, and eventually began hallucinating and presenting paranoid behaviours. 

Researchers found that the sleep deprivation caused the amygdala, the emotional centre in our brains, and medial prefrontal cortex, which regulates the amygdala, to not connect as it should. This disconnection of the functions caused the amygdala to be 60% more active than a rested person, which prevented the feeling of sleepiness to enter the individual. Although this study was an extreme situation of sleep deprivation, it still displays the level of damage a lack of sleep can cause. What factors need to be taken into consideration to improve one’s sleep?

Turn off Artificial Lights

This action will help naturally boost the hormone which causes you to be sleepy, melatonin. This includes not watching TV, using your phone or computer just before bed, or even in bed. These types of screens emit a blue and white light, which suppresses the melatonin hormone which will result in lack of sleep.

Choose What you Sleep on Carefully

With people spending around a third of their life asleep, what you sleep on is of the utmost importance. A mattress that can support joints and spines correctly can contribute to better sleep. Having the wrong support at night can cause backache, muscle strain and spine misalignment, which can result in long-term health issues.

Overall Health

Looking after your health generally is a common way to avoid problems, like insomnia. Drinking plenty of water before bed and eating your five-a-day is crucial to help get a healthy dose of vitamins and to keep organs functioning correctly. With national exposure on NHS campaigns like ‘Live Well’ and ‘Eat well’, trying to get into good habits has become very easy. However, with eating and exercising taking precedence, it could be argued that encouraging good sleeping habits has taken a back seat in a bid to promote other health aspects. 

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