Sleep is essential to our survival. In fact, about one-third of our lives is spent sleeping.
Sleep disorders are a common problem. In fact, about one in three adults complain about the quality of their sleep. For about 10% of adults, sleep problems can even affect daily activities.
Of course, older people are no exception. Getting older can have an impact on sleep, but there are ways to improve sleep quality.
What is insomnia?
Simply put, insomnia can be defined as difficulty falling asleep or getting enough sleep. Insomnia can be qualified according to several characteristics.
Insomnia is defined according to the time it occurs. For example, initial insomnia occurs when a person has difficulty falling asleep at bedtime for more than 30 minutes. Conversely, they may wake up at dawn with an inability to fall back asleep. Insomnia can also be defined by its duration: transient (very short duration), acute (related to a particular event, such as a bereavement) or chronic (more than 3 months).
Insomnia is not a disease; it is a symptom that can stem from many causes.
What are the average sleep requirements?
Sleep needs vary from person to person; they also vary with age. The following chart shows average sleep requirements by age. Keep in mind that these are averages and that your situation may be different. The important thing is to feel rested when you wake up and ready to face the day!
Average sleep requirements by life stage
|Stage of life||Average recommended daily hours of sleep|
|Newborn 0-3 months||14-17|
|Child 4-11 months||12-15|
|Children 1-2 years old||11-14|
|Children 3-5 years old||10-13|
|Children 6-13 years old||9-11|
|Teenager 14-17 years old||8-10|
|Young adult 18-25 years old||7-9|
|Adult 26-64 years old||7-9|
|Adult 65 years and older||7-8|
Sleep needs decrease with age. It is, therefore, normal that older people observe a decrease in their sleep hours as the years go by.
The biological clock changes with age. Older people see their energy level drop more rapidly at the end of the day and often wake up earlier in the morning (often before sunrise). With age, deep sleep (which is the most restorative) tends to decrease. It is normal to experience a decrease in sleep quality as you age.
What are the main causes of insomnia?
There are several possible causes of sleep disorders.
The immediate environment
It can affect sleep. For example, too much noise or light in the bedroom can interfere with falling asleep.
They can also play an important role. This is the case when you lack exercise during the day or consume too much caffeine.
Some medications can affect sleep quality. Older people usually take more medication, so it's possible that medications could be to blame. Antidepressants, diuretics or certain heart medications come to mind.
Certain health problems can also affect sleep. Sleep apnea, depression, diabetes, dementia and restless leg syndrome are examples.
Are sleeping pills effective?
Sleeping pills are a type of medication that can induce sleep. Their role in the treatment of insomnia in the elderly must remain limited, given their limited efficacy profile and the side effects they can cause. Indeed, the use of sleeping pills by the elderly is associated with an increase in falls and fractures as well as memory problems.
There are also some over-the-counter products and natural products, such as melatonin. Discuss them with your healthcare professional beforehand.
Tips for falling asleep
Adopting good sleep habits is the starting point for getting a good night’s rest. Here are a few quick tips:
- Adopt a regular sleep schedule
- Create a sleep-friendly environment
- Avoid napping after 3:00 p.m. and limit the duration of your nap (ideally 10 to 20 minutes)
- Don't stay in bed if you don't sleep after 20 minutes
- Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex
- Opt for a balanced diet and reasonable hours
- Limit stimulants, such as tea and coffee, to at least 5 hours before bedtime
- Get rid of stress before going to bed
- Reduce your activity level in the evening.
For more information, you can get our PSST! sleep guide, available free of charge online or at a Familiprix branch. You can also consult your healthcare professional to evaluate your situation and find solutions adapted to your reality.