How age affects sleep quality?

1 senior sur 2 rencontre des problèmes de sommeil

Sleep problems and chronic insomnia are not uncommon among senior citizens. These problems affect their quality of life and can lead to isolation.

For Baby Boomers, getting a good night’s sleep is essential for “ageing well”. According to Seniosphere Conseil’s Observatoire du Bien Vieillir (2022), more than one people out of  two aged 55 to 75 say that sleeping well is very important for ageing well, whether in France (57%), Germany (62%) or the UK (68%).

These problems can take the form of difficulty falling asleep, waking up early in the morning, waking up more frequently at night or feeling that sleep is not restorative.

These problems are due to a change in the sleep-wake rhythm with age. Sleep is lighter and less restorative than in adulthood, which explains the need for afternoon naps for older people.

The sleep disorder known as chronic insomnia is increasing only slightly with age. However, according to 2017 data from the Assurance Maladie, this varies according to gender: women are more affected (16.9%) by this problem, than men (9.1%).

Reduced quality of life

These disorders affect quality of life because they have repercussions during the day:

  • fatigue/anxiety
  • problems with attention, concentration and memory
  • problems with social functioning
  • mood disorders/irritability
  • daytime sleepiness
  • reduced motivation/energy/initiative
  • tendency to make mistakes/accidents at work or while driving
  • tension headaches or general malaise related to sleep loss
  • preoccupation or ruminations about sleep.

To combat these symptoms, people may use psychotropic or hypnotic drugs to treat all kinds of mental disorders: sleep disorders (hypnotics), but also depressive states (antidepressants), bipolar disorders (thymoregulators) or psychoses (antipsychotics and neuroleptics). In November 2020, according to the EpiCov survey, the use of psychotropic drugs increases with age, and even more so among women. In fact, 2.7% of men aged 15 to 24 take psychotropic drugs, compared with 12.1% of men aged 75 or over, a difference of +9.4 points.

The proportion of women taking psychotropic drugs rises sharply with age, from 7.7% of 15-24 year olds to 26.6% of women aged 75 or over, an increase of 18.9 points.

Sleep problems lead to isolation

With impaired sleep, constant fatigue and the need to take medication, most of the senior citizens affected are less and less physically active and rarely leave their homes. Yet it is clear that regular exercise improves sleep quality and encourages social contact.

If you don’t get out much, you are depriving yourself of exposure to natural light. This light helps to regulate sleep. The brain secretes melatonin – the sleep hormone – only when it’s dark. The brain synthesises melatonin during the day thanks to daylight. Elderly people who live in poorly lit homes or don’t get out much disturb their bodies: the brain is unable to synthesise melatonin properly and has difficulty distinguishing between day and night, thus disrupting sleep. It is therefore important to be exposed to a sufficiently intense light during the day to enable the brain to maintain the rhythm of alternating days and nights.

Also worth reading:

Seniors overweight and obesity: some disturbing figures

Share on social media