Sleep Problems in Seniors


Sleep disturbances are more common for older individuals than we think. Many older adults experience sleep problems such as trouble falling asleep, sleeping for fewer hours, waking up frequently at night or early morning, and getting less quality sleep. Some of the most common sleep disorders in seniors are sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and rapid eye movement.

Read more to see about these common sleep disorders in seniors and how they might be affecting your loved one:

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is most common for seniors and affects an estimated 32% of those 65 and older. Risk factors for this sleep disorder include obesity, BMI, neck circumference, and snoring. There is also an association between other medical conditions and sleep apnea such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, stroke, coronary artery disease, and atrial fibrillation.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is characterized by an unpleasant sensation in your legs that interferes with sleep, ultimately causing daytime sleepiness and fatigue. There are certain risk factors that increase your likeliness of RLS including age, gender, family history, chronic diseases, medications, ethnicity, or pregnancy. If you suffer from RLS, you may be at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, depression, or early death.

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder

During REM sleep, rapid eye movements occur, breathing becomes irregular, blood pressure rises, and there is a loss of muscle tone (paralysis). Your first REM cycle happens approximately 90 minutes after you fall asleep and reoccurs every 90 minutes. During this sleep phase, your arms and legs become temporarily paralyzed, you are most likely to dream, and your brain waves look similar to when you are awake. Older individuals wake up 3-4 times throughout the night and spend the most time in stage one, so they spend less time in stages 3 and 4, the periods of sleep that provide the most restorative sleep.


There are a number of things that can make sleep more difficult as we age, like changes in our sleep cycle, medications, or health issues. Older individuals often become sleepy earlier and wake up earlier, resulting in less deep sleep. Having a restful sleep not only helps improve concentration and memory formation, but also allows your body to repair any cell damage, refreshes your immune system which, in turn, prevents disease. Older individuals who have trouble sleeping are more likely to suffer from depression, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, and experience more nighttime falls. In addition, it can cause health problems like an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems, and breast cancer in women.

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