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Aging changes in sleep
Total sleep time remains the same or is slightly decreased (6.5 to 7 hours per night). It may be harder to fall asleep. The transition between sleep and awake is often abrupt, giving older people the feeling of being more of a "light sleeper" than when they were younger.
Less time is spent in deep, dreamless sleep. Older people average 3 or 4 awakenings each night, with increased recall of being awake.
Awakenings are related to less time spent in deep sleep, and to factors such as need to get up to urinate ( nocturia ), anxiety , and discomfort or pain associated with chronic illnesses.
Sleep deprivation can eventually cause confusion and other mental changes . It is treatable, and symptoms should lessen when adequate sleep is obtained. Sleep problems are also a common symptom of depression, so you should be evaluated and treated for depression if it is causing the problem.
Sometimes a mild antihistamine is more effective than an actual "sleeping pill" for relieving short-term insomnia.
Sleeping medications (such as benzodiazepines) should be used only as recommended, and only for a short time. Some can lead to dependence (needing to take the drug to function) or addiction (compulsive use despite adverse consequences) in some cases. Some build up in your body, and toxic effects can develop if you take them for a long time. Confusion, delirium , falls, and other side effects can develop.
You can take measures to promote sleep.
If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity such as reading or listening to music.
When you feel sleepy, get back in bed and try again. If not successful in 20 minutes, repeat.
Alcohol at bedtime may make you sleepy , but try to avoid it because alcohol also increases awakenings later in the night.
Update Date: 10/31/2002Steven Angelo, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT