Sleep Patterns and Aging

sleeping manIt is indeed true that sleeping patterns change with age. As people age, there are gradual changes which happen in the body that are normal processes of aging. It is these changes that affect our sleep. Sleep changes and disorders can be seen across unhealthy older people and healthy people as well.

First and foremost, older people find it harder to fall asleep and their sleep becomes very fragile, sometimes characterised by episodes of wakefulness in the night. The arousal threshold falls gradually as people age. The wakefulness and interruptions in sleep are as a result of sounds and disturbances that may occur at night.

Secondly, advances in age come about with a weakening of the normal circadian pattern of sleep. This is the 24 hour rhythm of sleep and wakefulness. Instead of having the normal consolidated hours of sleep at night, old people have their sleep spread across the 24 hour day. The result of the weak circadian pattern is that the elderly complain of shorter sleep and sleep is not as restorative as in their youth.

The above outlined sleep changes in old people have been demonstrated through sleep studies. The results of these studies show that sleep efficiency, which is the time spent asleep compared to the time in bed, falls from 95-98% during youth to 70-80% in old age. Another observation is that the amount of light sleep increases with age and the amount of deep sleep decreases.

Away from the normal processes of aging and the effects on sleep patterns, the other biggest cause of sleep disorders is the onset of different medical conditions. Psychiatric problems such dementia and clinical depression are to blame. Other conditions such as respiratory disease, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes may cause a host of problems related to lack of sleep.

Sleep disorders are also common with age and complicate the whole problem of sleep quality in old age. It is important to distinguish between long term sleep disorders and the normal aging process. A sleep study or medical checkup is required to rule out any disease. The most common sleep problems are obstructive sleep apnoea and periodic limb movement.  

Obstructive sleep apnoea is associated with breathing problems during sleep and will affect 1 out of 4 people 60 years and over. Interrupted breathing causes disrupted sleep which has other effects such as memory loss, lack of concentration, daytime sleepiness, amongst others.

Lifestyle changes can make sure than better sleep is achieved even in old age. Poor sleep habits over the long term will affect the physiological process and changes associated with age. Physical exercises can help especially in getting quality sleep. Old people leading an active lifestyle have fewer sleep problems.

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Somnowell Inventor - Visiting Professor Simon Ash FDS MSc MOrth BDS

Prof. Ash is the inventor of the highly successful SOMNOWELL Chrome device for snoring and sleep apnoea.

The Somnowell Chrome is made to exacting standards in the Somnowell laboratory under the supervision of Visiting Professor Simon Ash. Prof. Ash and his master technicians create each Somnowell Chrome device using their wealth of experience and expertise.

Prof. Ash works at the forefront of his profession. He is a Consultant and Specialist Orthodontist with over 30 years clinical experience, with a special interest in sleep related breathing disorders, TMJD, and bruxism. He currently works in Harley Street London and two private hospitals in London as part of a multi-disciplinary team managing snoring and sleep apnoea, and is Visiting Professor of Orthodontics at the BPP University.