En español | Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night can help maintain brain health as we age, but a significant number of older adults say they aren’t getting enough shuteye — a problem that can contribute to an array of health conditions from dementia to depression, says a new report from AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health.
“It’s a myth that adults need less sleep as they age. The evidence is clear that better brain and physical health in older people is related to getting an average of seven to eight hours of sleep every 24 hours,” said Sarah Lock, the council’s executive director and AARP senior vice president.
The report by the international group of experts included new recommendations for a wide range of sleep-related issues, including whether a daytime nap should count toward those seven to eight hours of daily sleep, and how to help sleep problems in those with dementia.
“We know adults have many questions about how much sleep is enough, and the role that sleep plays in brain health and cognitive function,” said council chair Marilyn Albert, professor of neurology and director of the division of cognitive neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “This report answers a lot of these questions.”
The scientists also urged both patients and doctors to take sleep problems more seriously. Most people don’t mention it to their doctors, they wrote, and “too few health care providers consider sleep a serious health issue,” despite the fact that “chronic inadequate sleep puts people at higher risk for dementia, depression, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, fall-related injuries and cancer.”
AARP’s 2016 sleep and brain health survey found that 99 percent of adults age 50-plus believe that sleep is important for their brain health, but 43 percent say they don’t get enough sleep. More than half (54 percent) of adults report they wake up too early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep.
“It is normal for sleep to change with age, but poor quality sleep with age is not normal,” the report said. While sleep disorders become more common with age, they often can be treated, and the experts emphasized that people at any age can change their behavior to improve their sleep.
Among the council’s recommendations:
Avoid long naps: The evidence on whether naps are beneficial to brain health in older adults is still unclear. If you must, limit napping to 30 minutes in the early afternoon. Longer naps late in the day can disrupt nighttime sleep.
Stick to a schedule: Get up at the same time every day, seven days a week.
Go toward the light: Expose yourself to sunlight during the day, which helps set your body clock.
Get moving: Regular physical activity promotes good sleep; it can also help you lose weight, which also can improve sleep.
Restrict what you eat and drink: Avoid caffeine after lunch and don’t eat or drink for three hours before bed to keep from waking up to use the bathroom.
Keep pets out of the bedroom: Bar them especially if they disrupt your sleep by moving around or making noise during the night.
Banish electronics: Keep the bedroom for sleeping, not watching TV or reading or playing games on your smartphone or tablet.
Try a warm bath, warm socks: A regular bath may be beneficial two to three hours before bedtime. Wearing socks to keep feet warm can also help you fall asleep more easily.
No difficult discussions: Keep it peaceful before bedtime. No arguing or discussing touchy, contentious topics.
Know the warning signs: You may have a sleep disorder that requires treatment if you have several of these symptoms, including trouble falling or staying asleep three times a week for at least three months; frequent snoring; persistent daytime sleepiness; leg discomfort before sleep; acting out your dreams during sleep; and grinding your teeth or waking with a headache or aching jaws.
Help people with dementia who wake frequently: Caretakers should make sure dementia patients get enough exposure to outdoor light during the day and avoid excessive napping or staying in bed too long. Check with health care providers to see if medications may be affecting sleep at night or contributing to daytime sleepiness. Changing the timing of medications may help.