If you’ve ever counted sheep, woken up multiple times during the night or experience daytime sleepiness, you are one of the 67 percent of older adults who suffer from insomnia symptoms at least a few nights a week, according to the National Sleep Foundation. As we age, sleeplessness may become more of an issue, so we’ve rounded up the top causes of insomnia for older adults.
Cause #1: Circadian Rhythm
Aging causes our circadian rhythms to change and become less consistent, which makes us more susceptible to insomnia, according to the National Institutes of Health. We become sleepy earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. When we try to fight our body’s natural instincts by attempting to stay awake or sleep later, it often becomes a losing battle.
Cause #2: Restless Legs Syndrome
Nearly 10 to 35 percent of adults over age 65 suffer from RLS, according to the National Institutes of Health. The uncomfortable tingling, which is only alleviated by moving the legs, can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep at night.
Cause #3: Menopause
Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia compared to men, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Researchers have found that the effects of hormonal changes in women during menopause, like hot flashes and mood swings, can cause erratic sleep patterns.
Cause #4: Medical Conditions
Insomnia can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as GERD, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Cause #5: Mental Health Disorders
General stress may be one of the biggest culprits of all, sapping our body of much-needed Zzs. More than 50 percent of all insomnia cases are caused by anxiety, depression, or psychological stress, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. What’s more, insomnia itself can aggravate or worsen already-existing mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Cause #6: Medication
Both over-the-counter and prescription medication can affect our sleep patterns. Medication that treats hypertension, heart disease, depression – especially SSRIs – Alzheimer’s disease, colds and allergies, joint pain, neurological disorders and high cholesterol may all contribute to sleeplessness.
Cause #7: General Aging
Older adults wake up three to four times per night due to less time spent in deep sleep, the need to urinate, and/or a chronic illness that causes pain, anxiety, or general discomfort.
How Do You Know If It's Insomnia?Latin for “insomnis” or “sleeplessness,” symptoms of insomnia vary from person to person and can be episodic or chronic, lasting from days to weeks to even months, respectively, depending on the severity of the condition. Symptoms include:
- Having a hard time initiating sleep
- Struggling to maintain sleep, waking up frequently during the night
- Waking up too early and being unable to go back to sleep
- Having nonrestorative or poor quality sleep
However insomnia presents itself, it most often results in fatigue, moodiness, irritability, daytime sleepiness, lack of concentration, poor memory, headaches and even stomach aches.
What’s more, people with chronic insomnia report a less-fulfilling family and social life, marital problems, poor job satisfaction and productivity, as well as increased absenteeism, according to a study by the University of Rochester.
Treatment for insomnia varies depending on the severity of the disorder. Generally, simple lifestyle changes can help prevent difficulty falling asleep:
- Exercise daily – no later than 30 minutes before bedtime
- Avoid stimulants, like caffeine, nicotine and certain medications
- Eat right
- Adopt a bedtime routine, like reading, that helps you unwind before sleep
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
- Make your bedroom a technology-free zone
Additionally, natural sleep aids, like Valerian, Chamomile or Melatonin, may also help you achieve restful sleep. However, before starting any sleep medication regimen—over-the-counter or prescription—it’s important to talk to your doctor to prevent any possible drug interactions.