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Aging Affects On Sleep Patterns -Alzheimer’s Disease

There’s a good reason a “Nana nap” works so well for some of us but indeed not all of us reap the benefits. If you have been exercising vigorously or had a rough night’s sleep, a small top-up during the day may replenish your energy levels.

alzheimers sleep patterns

Researchers say that between 33 and 45 per cent of adults either sleep poorly or not long enough most nights.

With aging, sleep patterns tend to change. Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep. They awaken more often during the night and earlier in the morning. Older people wake up more often because they spend less time deep sleep.  In fact, nearly 7 out of every 10 adults experience problems that affect sleep quality.

Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is common in older adults and this can be due to a number of factors, including changes in sleep architecture and circadian rhythm. Sleep is broken into repeated stages throughout the night, including light, deep and REM sleep (that’s the active dreaming phase). With older adults spending more time in the lighter phase of sleep, they don’t feel like they have had sufficient sleep or the satisfaction of deep sleep. The body tires earlier in the evening resulting in an earlier wake time.

The real difference in the aging phenomenon is that even though our sleep is on the decline, our needs remain the same throughout our adulthood.  This may be how the saying “Nanna nap” got its name. With less deep and REM sleep throughout the night, the daytime fatigue leads older people to want to nap. If that nap is kept short (say less than 30 minutes) and before mid-afternoon, daytime sleep can be counterproductive and lead to even less quality night time sleep.

Sleep disturbances in the older adults can also be due to psychological, social or environmental factors such as changes in accommodation, death of a partner, illness or chronic health concerns or your medications. Ailments like arthritis, sleep apnoea, and restless legs syndrome can all make sleep a challenge.

Sleep patterns for those with Alzheimer’s disease can have a disrupted sleep/wake cycle that worsens as the disease progresses. There can be longer napping, decreased eye movements in the REM period and increases in breathing problems during sleep. Apart from physical changes, sleep apnoea is a common problem in the aging process.

You may often see residents at nursing homes being wheeled out to the balcony to enjoy a little sunshine, absorbing up the Vitamin D and Serotonin which is one of the most important brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, for regulating the sleep/wake cycle.

Some effective ways to manage your sleep health can include:

  • Talk about your experiences with your doctor
  • Get regular exercise, particularly weight or resistance training as this has been shown to increase and deepen sleep
  • Learn some relaxation techniques before bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol. Whilst a drink or two may put you to sleep, it can disrupt your sleep throughout the night
  • Write a worry list – writing down your worries so you don’t burden your mind with problems during the night. Review them during the day only.
  • Attempt to delay your bedtime to decrease chances of early morning waking up
  • Stay out of bed if you are not asleep – treat your bedroom as a ‘sleep only’ zone
  • Drink less fluid before bed to avoid being interrupted with toilet trips during the night
  • Avoid using the computer, iPad or other device before bedtime

Research by the Sleep Health Foundation has found 33 to 45 per cent of adults sleep either poorly or not long enough most nights, leaving them to face the new day with fatigue, irritability and other side effects of sleep deprivation.

Sleep Patterns
Alzheimer’s Disease

How much sleep is enough?

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