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Everyone looks forward to a good night’s sleep. It allows the body to restore its energy levels. However, along with the physical ailments that occur with aging, changes to sleep patterns are also very common. As people age, they have a difficult time falling asleep and an even harder time staying asleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 44% of seniors experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week. Although seniors are no longer in their teenage years, sleep needs do not decline with aging. So what keeps seniors tossing and turning all night long?

In order to answer that question, it’s important to understand the different stages of sleep. There are two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep includes four stages from light to deep sleep. As people fall deeper into sleep they reach REM—this is the most active stage where dreaming occurs. During REM sleep, the body sinks into a deeper sleep and muscles become immobile. This sleep cycle is repeated several times a night in increments of 90 minutes. Although total sleep time may stay the same, seniors will spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep where it’s easier to be woken up by aches and pains. Due to this change in sleeping patterns, many seniors have less satisfying sleep causing them to be exhausted during the day.

Many people assume that poor sleeping patterns are a normal part of aging, but they’re not. Sleep patterns will change with age, but suffering from disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day is not part of normal aging. Here are a few tips to help seniors get a better night’s sleep:

  • Eat a light bedtime snack. Many people find that warm milk increases sleepiness because it contains a natural, sedative-like amino acid.
  • Avoid caffeine for at least 3 or 4 hours before bed.
  • Exercise (moderately) in the afternoon.
  • Do a quiet activity, such as reading or listening to music.
  • Take small naps during the day.
  • Go to bed early and wake up early.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each morning.

A study performed by Northwestern University discovered that seniors who do moderate exercise (20-40 minutes) during the day and eat healthy reported few to no sleep problems. Following these tips and staying healthy will help seniors to beat the trends of poor sleep patterns and help them feel rejuvenated and energized for the day.