Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint at any age. It affects almost half of adults 60 and older.
If you have insomnia, you may experience any one or any combination of the following symptoms.
Short-term insomnia, lasting less than one month, may result from a medical or psychiatric condition. Or it may occur after a change in personal circumstances like losing a loved one, relocating, financial worries, or being hospitalized. If insomnia lasts longer than a month, it is considered chronic, even if the original cause has been resolved.
Many factors can cause insomnia. However, the most common reason older adults wake up at night is to go to the bathroom. Prostate enlargement in men and continence problems in women are often the cause. Unfortunately, waking up to go to the bathroom at night also places older adults at greater risk for falling.
Health Issues and Insomnia
Disorders that cause pain or discomfort during the night such as heartburn, arthritis, menopause, and cancer also can cause you to lose sleep. Medical conditions such as heart failure and lung disease may make it more difficult to sleep through the night, too.
Neurologic conditions such as Parkinson's disease and dementia are often a source of sleep problems, as are psychiatric conditions, such as depression. Although depression and insomnia are often related, it is currently unclear whether one causes the other.
Personal Habits and Insomnia
Many older people also have habits that make it more difficult to get a good night's sleep. They may nap more frequently during the day or may not exercise as much. Spending less time outdoors can reduce their exposure to sunlight and upset their circadian biologic clock and their sleep cycle. Drinking more alcohol or caffeine can keep them from falling asleep or staying asleep.
Changes in Sleeping and Waking Patterns
Also, as people age, their sleeping and waking patterns tend to change. Older adults usually become sleepier earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. If they don't adjust their bedtimes to these changes, they may have difficulty falling and staying asleep.
Medications and Insomnia
Many older adults take a variety of different medications that may negatively affect their sleep. Many medications have side effects that can cause sleepiness or affect daytime functioning.
(Acknowledgments: The information contained in this article was provided by the National Institute on Aging.)