Once seen as being as something we did when we were idle and lazy, we are now starting to understand how important high-quality sleep is to our health and wellbeing. Sleep deprivation is now identified as a causing significant health issues.
How much we each need, the quality of the sleep we are getting and factors that can lead us to counting sheep are questions that can only be answered on an individual basis.
What is known, is that in the past decade there has been a big jump in the number of people being diagnosed with night time respiratory problems and sleeping disorders. It is estimated Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) affects about 5 per cent of Australian adults, with the condition more common in males. (source; ABC/University of Canberra)
With the introduction of smart apps on our watches and phones, tracking the hours you sleep and the quality has never been easier. With the help of sleephealthfoundation.org.au and sleepfoundation.org, we take a deep dive into all you need to know about sleep.
How much sleep do we need?
Most people sleep between 7 and 9 hours each day. However, they may not get all their sleep at night. Around 4 in 10 older people have at least one 30-minute nap every day. People with a disability often have many sleep issues and while every condition differs, as a general rule people living with a disability are more likely to suffer from sleep problems.
Does sleep change as we age?
According to The Sleep Foundation, older people also tend to sleep lightly. They also wake up more often and spend less time in deep, refreshing sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the body at night, which promotes sleep. Older people make less melatonin.
After middle age, our body clock gradually starts to change. The hormones that regulate sleep are released earlier in the day. Some older adults may start to feel sleepy earlier, and they may wake up in the early hours of the morning.
Factors that can interfere with sleep:
- Pain may make it difficult to stay in one position for the whole night
- Napping during the day or going to bed too early at night
- Dietary stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol
- Environmental stimulants; blue lights, late night television
- Other environmental factors; noise, temperature, comfort
- Lack of exercise or lack of mental stimulation (boredom)
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Medical conditions
- Hot flushes in postmenopausal women
- The need to go to the toilet during the night
Consider how many of these things are within your control?
What medical conditions can affect sleep?
- Anxiety & depression
- ADHD and ASD
- Sleep Apnoea (according to The Sleep Foundation, this affects 1 in 4 older people)
- Periodic limb movement disorder
- Insomnia & other sleep disorders
- Dementia or Alzheimers
- Conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, incontinence, indigestion, heart disease and lung diseases such as asthma or COPD can make it harder to sleep.
- The drugs used to treat these conditions.
What can I do to improve my sleep?
- Support your biological clock
- Get help managing stress
- Develop a sleep hygiene routine
- Look after your health and nutrition
When should you seek help?
Talk to your GP if you have persistent problems with your sleep such that it affects your daytime wellbeing, or you are always feeling sleepy during the day.
You should also seek help if your partner notices something wrong with your breathing during sleep. There are effective treatments available for snoring, sleep apnoea and insomnia.