When Sleep Becomes An Age Old Problem

When Sleep Becomes An Age Old Problem



Over the past years, only a​ handful tried to​ question the prevailing wisdom that sleep starts to​ deteriorate in​ late middle age and steadily erodes from then on. Majority of​ sleep researchers believe that the best way to​ know more about sleep problems is​ to​ ask an​ elderly, and you will surely get a​ litany of​ complaints.

According to​ Dr. Michael Vitiello, a​ sleep researcher who is​ a​ professor of​ psychiatry and behavioral sciences at​ the University of​ Washington, “older people complain more about their sleep. They just do.”And for years, this has been the basis of​ most sleep scientists who thought they knew what was going on.

Recently, however, new findings are giving experts more reasons to​ have second thoughts and may lead many to​ change their minds about sleep as​ they know it. it​ came as​ surprise to​ them that sleep does not really change much from age 60 onwards. Research shows that sleep problems are not due to​ aging itself, but mostly caused by illnesses or​ the medications used to​ treat the elderly.

“The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep,” said Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a​ professor of​ psychiatry and a​ sleep researcher at​ the University of​ California, San Diego. “If you look at​ older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.”

Recent studies are proving that difficulties in​ sleeping can be traced back to​ poor health. One of​ the most common causes of​ sleep disruption is​ pain, and a​ restless night can make pain worse the next day. And when pain becomes worse, it​ follows that sleep becomes even more difficult. The situation becomes a​ vicious cycle common in​ people with conditions that tend to​ afflict the elderly, like back pain and arthritis.


Two parallel lines of​ research have brought up this new view in​ sleep problems. The first tried to​ find out what happened to​ sleep patterns when healthy people grew old. The second sought to​ discover the relationship between sleep and pain. in​ order to​ find out what really happens with aging, Dr. Vitiello and some investigators, chose to​ study a​ group of​ elderly who reported no sleep problems. The group actually make up half of​ the people who are over 65 years old.
The group were not really spared by age-related changes in​ sleep. in​ fact, their sleep turned out to​ be different from sleep in​ young people. The group of​ elderly said that their sleep were lighter, more often disrupted by brief awakenings, and shorter by a​ half hour to​ an​ hour. The reason for these, according to​ Dr. Vitiello, was that the age-related changes in​ sleep patterns might not be an​ issue in​ themselves. Something else was making people complain about their sleep.
Another question Dr. Vitiello and his colleagues also asked was that what normally happened to​ sleep over the life span. it​ had long been known that sleep changes, but no one had systematically studied when those changes occurred or​ how pronounced they were in​ healthy people.
The results based on the analysis of​ 65 sleep studies, which included 3,577 healthy subjects ages 5 to​ 102 once again surprised the team of​ experts. Most of​ the sleep pattern changes occurred with people between the ages of​ 20 and 60. in​ comparison with teenagers and young adults, healthy middle-aged and older people slept a​ half hour to​ an​ hour less each night, they woke up a​ bit more often during the night, and their sleep was lighter. But to​ those who were above 60, there was no remarkable change in​ sleep, at​ least in​ people who were healthy.
Changes in​ sleep during adulthood were subtle. Middle-aged and older people, for example, would fall asleep without much difficulty. The only change in​ sleep latency, as​ it​ is​ called, came out when the investigators compared latency at​ the two extremes, in​ 20- and 80-year-olds. The 80-year-olds took an​ average of​ 10 more minutes to​ fall asleep.
Contrary to​ their expectations, the investigators did not find any increase in​ daytime drowsiness among healthy older people. Even aging has no effect with the time it​ took for people to​ start dreaming after they fell asleep. However, the most significant change was the number of​ times people woke after having fallen asleep.
According to​ Dr. Donald Bliwise, a​ sleep researcher at​ Emory University, healthy young adults sleep 95 percent of​ the night. “They fall asleep,” he said, “and don’t wake up until the alarm goes off.” Healthy people are asleep 85 percent of​ the night when they reach the age of​ 60. Their sleep is​ disrupted by brief wakeful moments typically lasting about three to​ ten seconds.
Real sleep problems arise when people have conditions that make them wake up in​ the night, like sleep apnea, chronic pain, restless leg syndrome or​ urinary problems. What to​ expect and what to​ do about it​ will involve studies of​ the relationship of​ sleep to​ pain. There is​ no question that pain can disrupt sleep. What's more interesting is​ that a​ lack of​ sleep can somehow increase the sensation of​ pain.




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