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Growing Old Shouldn't Mean Losing Sleep

If you're an older adult who has trouble sleeping, don't assume it's a normal feature of advancing age.

The sleeplessness that affects about a third of the elderly isn't a natural part of aging and can result in serious health problems, says a new report from the International Longevity Center-USA and the AARP Foundation.

The report -- "Getting Your ZZZZZZZs: How Sleep Affects Health and Aging" -- reviews what researchers have learned about common sleep disorders, how they affect a person's brain and body, and how people with these sleep disorders can get a good night's sleep.

Sleeplessness in old age can be caused by a number of factors, including physical changes associated with aging, traumatic life experiences (like the death of a spouse), decreased physical activity and limited exposure to sunlight.

"Sleeplessness sets up a vicious cycle," the report notes. "Older people have problems that disturb their sleep, which often affect their other body systems, especially hormone production and metabolism -- causing more problems that disturb sleep even more."

Loss of sleep can result in memory problems, depression, greater risk of falls and even changes in the nervous system that affect cardiovascular health.

Regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle can help older adults get a good night's sleep. But, the report notes that taking short naps of no more than 20 to 30 minutes during the day also may help a person sleep at night.

While medications may be useful for short-term sleep problems, they don't seem effective in solving long-term sleep disorders, the report says. Sleep disorders that affect older adults include sleep apnea and insomnia.

Older adults who experience a long period of sleeplessness should contact their doctor, the report urges.

A copy of the report can be downloaded from the
International Longevity Center
Web site.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about sleep and aging.

Reference Source 101


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