Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia are more common in older adults. These conditions can lead to serious consequences if they are not treated.
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David Csintyan once boasted that he could get up every morning, answer the phone at any hour of the night and have lucid conversations. When he sat down on the sofa to read, he would fall asleep before he reached the second page.
Csintyan (74), of Monument, Colo. discovered that these were signs of complex severe sleeping apnea. He had suffered an ischemic stroke in 2017. Csintyan, a 74-year-old from Monument, Colo., was diagnosed with complex severe sleep apnea after he suffered an ischemic stroke in 2017. Sleep apnea can affect up to 70% of stroke victims. Csintyan states that “I clearly wasn’t getting enough sleep and my brain wasn’t happy with the lack of oxygen.”
Sleep and Aging
Adults have more difficulty sleeping with age. There are many reasons for this. One reason is that as we age, the brain part responsible for controlling circadian rhythms (which regulate our sleep-wake cycle) starts to decline. Dr. Raj Dasgupta is an associate professor of clinical medical at the Keck school of medicine at the University of Southern California. Dasgupta also says that studies have shown that older adults get less sunlight in the day, which can further exacerbate the problem. This means that sleep quality and quantity are affected. He says that sleep becomes more fragmented with age. “You’ll have more awakenings during the night, making it harder to get restorative sleep.”
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Ancoli-Israel states that older adults are more likely to be prescribed additional medications. This can cause sleep problems. She also mentions that a person who is suffering from pain due to arthritis or cancer can also have trouble sleeping.
There are several types of sleep disorders.
According to Dr. Charu Sabharwal who is a board-certified in sleep medicine and the owner of Comprehensive Sleep Care Center which has nine locations throughout Maryland and Virginia, there are approximately 60 to 70 different sleep disorders. Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep is the most common condition among older adults. There are many causes of insomnia, including stress, poor sleep habits and medication side effects, as well as lack of exercise. If you experience insomnia three nights per week for at least three years, it is considered chronic.
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Another common condition is sleep apnea. This is when someone stops breathing during sleep. Central sleep apnea is a condition where the brain fails to send the right signals to keep you awake. Obstructive sleep Apnea occurs when there is too much tissue at the back of your throat, or excessive muscle relaxation, and it makes it harder to breathe.
According to the American Thoracic Society (a non-profit that promotes better care for sleep-related breathing disorders and other pulmonary diseases), 18% of men aged 61 to 100 suffer from sleep apnea. Sabharwal states that sleep apnea is more common in women who have undergone menopause.
Treatment for a Sleep Disorder
Sabharwal states that if you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for more than two weeks, it is time to seek treatment. You can find tips from the American Sleep Association on how to get a good night’s sleep at its website, in the “About Sleep” section. She says, “If it isn’t treated promptly, it can become a pattern and then it will be called chronic insomnia.” The sooner the patient is treated, the better.
Other signs that you may have a problem include waking up early and feeling tired. You should have your partner checked if you notice that you snore at night or stop breathing.
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Medicare and insurance should cover the cost of seeing a specialist. This would usually be a neurologist or pulmonologist with additional training in sleep medicine. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat insomnia. This is done based on your medical history. Insomniacs can also learn relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.