The study was a literature review that explored previous research on why seniors sleep less. Researchers suggest, beginning in the fifth decade of life, many people go to bed later and wake earlier. They may take longer to fall asleep, sleep for shorter periods of time, and wake more frequently. They are also more likely to be awakened by external stimuli. They typically spend less time in slow wave sleep cycles, have shorter sleep cycles, and spend more time awake during the night.
These changes in sleep patterns can produce many behavioural changes. Ten percent of adults ages 55-64 report napping during the day. For those ages 75-84, that figure rises to 25%.
The study’s authors suggest these sleep changes are not due to scheduling issues or to a decreased need for sleep. Instead, brain circuits and neurons linked to sleep degrade with age, making it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. This trend can accelerate and play a significant role in the aging process.
The study found sleep difficulties in old age are not universal. Some seniors take fewer naps and feel more alert during the day as they transition from midlife to the senior years. Factors such as depression, sleep disorders, chronic pain, and nighttime bladder disturbances may help explain this difference, suggesting brain aging alone does not account for all senior sleep difficulties.
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