Q:Does the need for sleep change with age? My parents can’t seem to get enough.

A: Sleep problems and disorders become unfortunately common with age.  Sleep patterns and habits often will change, and a person may have trouble falling asleep or not being able to stay asleep as long as they once did. Others wake up frequently at night and are unable to get the quality of sleep they need.  Reasons for these sleep disturbances can run the gamut from primary sleep disorders, medical conditions, medications and even common everyday substances.

Seniors may experience:

  • Insomnia – difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or having restless sleep.
  • Sleep apnea – brief interruptions in breathing during sleep
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS) – the overwhelming need to move your legs during sleep
  • Periodic limb movement disorder – involuntary movement of the limbs during sleep
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders – a disrupted sleep-wake cycle

Some medical conditions can lead to sleep problems, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, neurological, gastrointestinal, or respiratory conditions and bladder control issues. Similarly, certain medications may contribute to sleep disruption, like diuretics, steroids, anticholinergics, H2 blockers, adrenergic medications, antidepressants and others.  Coffee, alcohol and smoking are well known for disturbing a night’s rest.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a change in sleep patterns, be sure to discuss this with a physician.  They may do a physical examination and/or ask for a sleep log to be kept for a couple of weeks.  If the physician suspects a primary sleep disorder upon review of the log, a sleep study test may be ordered.  This is usually done at night in a sleep study lab where a technician can monitor body movement, breathing, heart rate and any periods of sleep apnea. Results are sent to the doctor for interpretation and diagnosis.

Often, these simple behavioral adjustments will increase the quality and quantity of our sleep.

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (avoid naps)
  • Avoid bright lights and engage in a calm activity before bedtime
  • Create a calm, soothing, darkened environment for sleep
  • Use the bed for sleep and sex only (not a host of other activities)

Healthful sleep is vital for our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Join Dr. Tony Stigall for a discussion of sleep studies and restful sleep during ‘Ask the Doctor’ on Tuesday, March 8th. To RSVP, call One Senior Place in Viera at 321-751-6771.


One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.

Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.