Docyard | Get treated for sound sleep
Along with the physical changes that occur as we get older, changes to our sleep pattern are a part of the normal aging process. As people age, they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. In fact, research demonstrates that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood. So, what’s keeping seniors awake?
Changes in the patterns of our sleep — what we call “sleep architecture” — occur as we age and this may contribute to sleep problems. Sleep occurs in multiple stages including dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). The sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night and although total sleep time tends to remain constant, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep.
The prevalence of insomnia is also higher among older adults. According to research, 44 per cent of older persons experience one or more of the night time symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week or more.
Insomnia may be chronic (lasting over one month) or acute (lasting a few days or weeks) and is often times related to an underlying cause such as a medical or psychiatric condition. It is worthwhile to speak to your doctor about insomnia symptoms and about any effects these symptoms may have. For instance, cutting back on caffeine may help solve the problem. If insomnia is creating serious effects, complicating other conditions or making a person too tired to function normally during their waking hours, it is important to seek treatment. When effects are serious and untreated, insomnia can take a toll on a person’s health. People with insomnia can experience excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and increased risk for accidents and illness as well as significantly reduced quality of life. Both behavioural therapies and prescription medications singly or in combination are considered effective means to treat insomnia; the proper choice should be matched to a variety of factors in discussion with a physician.
Snoring is the primary cause of sleep disruption. It is most commonly associated with persons who are overweight and the condition often becomes worse with age. Loud snoring is particularly serious as it can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
With OSA, breathing stops — sometimes for as long as 10-60 seconds — and the amount of oxygen in the blood drops, often to very low. This alerts the brain, causing a brief arousal (awakening) and breathing resumes. These stoppages of breathing can occur repeatedly, causing multiple sleep disruptions throughout the night and result in excessive daytime sleepiness and impaired daytime function.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological movement disorders characterised by an irresistible urge to move the limbs. With RLS, unpleasant, tingling, creeping or pulling feelings occur mostly in the legs, become worse in the evening and make it difficult to sleep through the night. Its prevalence increases with age. About 80 per cent of people with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is another common cause of sleep problems. The pain also makes it difficult to sleep. Medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus, renal failure, respiratory diseases such as asthma, and immune disorders are all associated with sleep problems and disorders. Diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis also commonly cause problems sleeping.
There are multiple medical causes why we get sleep disturbances particularly on getting older. It is very important that once you feel sleep difficulty, early medical consultation helps.
The Writer is Dr Arunesh Kumar Senior consultant, pulmonology Paras Hospitals, Gurugram
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