Rita Hodges

Extension service

Everyone knows children need their sleep. But so do adults.

Sometimes, sleep can be fleeting as we age. Those sleepless hours may be a sign of health problems.

It’s a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age, according to Dr. Andrew Crocker, Texas AgriLife Extension Service gerontology health specialist.

Your body and mind work very hard for you and you owe both the seven to eight hours of sleep per night that they deserve.

Insomnia occurs more frequently among older adults. Insomnia may complicate other conditions or make a person too tired to function normally during waking hours.

Insomnia can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating and increased risk for accidents and illness.

If you experience insomnia at least a few nights per week or more, it is worthwhile to speak to your health provider about your trouble sleeping and any effects your insomnia may have on your body.

Sleep occurs in multiple stages and older people tend to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep.

Snoring, a condition that gets worse with age, is the primary cause of sleep disruption for many adults. Snoring is most commonly associated with persons who are overweight. Loud snoring is particularly serious as it can be a symptom of sleep apnea.

In sleep apnea, breathing stops and the amount of oxygen in the blood drops. This alerts the brain, causing you to wake up and resume breathing. These stoppages of breathing can occur repeatedly, causing multiple sleep disruptions throughout the night and result in excessive daytime sleepiness and impaired daytime function. Untreated, sleep apnea could lead to cardiovascular disease, headaches, memory loss and depression.

If you experience snoring on a regular basis and it can be heard from another room or you have been told you stop breathing during your sleep, these are signs that you might have sleep apnea. It should be discussed with your health provider.

Some conditions related to sleep problems include:

•Hypertension is associated with snoring and sleep apnea.

•Hot flashes, changes in breathing and decreasing hormonal levels may lead to trouble sleeping.

•Many cancer patients experience sleep problems.

•Depression is most closely associated with insomnia and is a risk factor for having difficulty sleeping. This is especially true for those who have chronic insomnia.

•The pain and discomfort of arthritis may make it difficult to sleep through the night.

Crocker said in addition to these conditions, the medications used to treat these and other medical conditions may adversely affect one’s ability to sleep.

If you experience sleep problems, think about whether your difficulty sleeping may be caused by an event or particular stress. If so, the problem may resolve in time and you need not seek treatment.

The following suggestions may improve sleep:

•Do not have work materials, computers and televisions in the bedroom.

•Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends.

•Create a good sleep environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.

•Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.

•Finish eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.

•Exercise regularly, completing any workout at least two hours before bedtime.

•Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine close to bedtime.

Persistent sleep problems may be a sign of a larger issue that could cause adverse health effects.

For more information, contact Rita M. Hodges, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, 701 S. Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie; call 972-825-5175; or e-mail rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.