September is National Healthy Aging Month, in addition to serving several other nationally recognized health awareness causes, as well. Part of every person’s general health is getting adequate sleep. Clear signs of inconsistent sleep include irritability, inattentiveness, and increased chance for accidents.
There are two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM sleep) and rapid eye movement (REM sleep). When falling asleep, we first go through the four stages of NREM sleep, ranging from light to deep sleep. After completing the fourth stage, one enters REM sleep, when dreaming often occurs. The name “rapid eye movement” describes the back and forth motion of the eyes under the eyelids during this stage of sleep. Muscles also become immobile in REM sleep. We cycle through the stages of NREM and REM sleep approximately every 90 minutes throughout the night.
Sleep needs and patterns change with age. For instance, children and adolescents need more sleep than do adults. Older adults need seven to nine hours per night, the same amount of sleep young adults require. Many older adults report difficulties falling asleep. Additionally, older adults tend to sleep less soundly and wake up more frequently throughout the night than do younger adults. The body’s regulation of sleep also changes with age, as older adults tend to be sleepier earlier in the evening and wake earlier in the morning.
Several potential causes could explain these changes. Older adults may produce more melatonin, the hormone responsible for controlling sleep. They may also have increased sensitivity to changes in their environment, such as to noise and temperature. If you have trouble sleeping, see your doctor or a sleep specialist. Despite the fact that the ways in which our bodies sleep change with age, all age groups should be getting adequate sleep. Age does not diminish the quality of your sleep.
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