Circadacare logo

The impact of sleep and circadian disruption on the health and wellbeing of elderly people

Sleep is a vital component of our overall health and wellbeing, playing a crucial role in maintaining physical and cognitive functions. Unfortunately, sleep patterns tend to change as we age, often resulting in sleep disturbances and circadian rhythm disruptions among elderly individuals. This blog attempts to explore the risks associated with sleep and circadian disruption in older adults and strategies to promote healthy sleep habits and improve their overall quality of life. 

 

Sleep changes with age

As we grow older, our sleep patterns naturally undergo changes. Elderly individuals often experience a shift in their sleep-wake cycle, commonly referred to as advanced sleep phase syndrome. This means they tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than younger adults. Additionally, the overall duration and quality of sleep may be compromised due to factors such as medical conditions, medication use, and lifestyle changes. 

 

Health risks of sleep disruption are numerous and wide-ranging, They include: 

  • Cognitive decline: Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have been linked to cognitive decline in older adults. Studies have shown that sleep disturbances increase the risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. 

  • Cardiovascular issues: Chronic sleep disruptions can contribute to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke in the elderly population. Lack of sleep has been associated with increased blood pressure, inflammation, and a higher likelihood of developing arrhythmias. 

  • Weakened immune system: Sleep plays a vital role in supporting the immune system. Reduced sleep duration and quality can weaken the immune response in older adults, making them more susceptible to infections and slower to recover from illnesses. 

  • Mood disorders: Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and sleep apnea, are often accompanied by mood disorders such as depression and anxiety in the elderly. The bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health underscores the importance of addressing sleep disruptions to support emotional wellbeing. 

In addition to sleep disturbances, elderly individuals may experience disruptions in their circadian rhythm. The circadian system regulates the timing of physiological processes and impacts various bodily functions, including sleep, hormone production, metabolism, and immune response. Disruption of this internal body clock can have far-reaching effects on health and wellbeing. 

We can look to strategies for healthy sleep and supporting our own circadian rhythm: 

  • Consistent sleep schedule: Establishing a regular sleep schedule helps reinforce the body’s internal clock. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, can improve sleep quality and promote a healthier circadian rhythm. 

  • Sleep environment: Creating a comfortable sleep environment is essential. Ensure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Use comfortable bedding and invest in a supportive mattress and pillow to enhance sleep quality. 

  • Healthy lifestyle choices: Encourage regular physical activity, but avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake, particularly in the evening. Additionally, promote a balanced diet and discourage late-night heavy meals. 

  • Light exposure: Exposure to natural light during the day, especially in the morning, and avoiding bright lights and light with a strong blue content in the evening can help regulate the circadian rhythm. Encourage spending time outdoors during daylight hours and limit exposure to electronic screens before bedtime. A good circadian lighting solution will ensure the correct colour and brightness of lighting to support natural circadian rhythms and avoid disruption. 

  • Medical intervention: If sleep disturbances persist or significantly impact an elderly person’s quality of life, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. They may recommend treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) or prescribe appropriate medications when necessary. 

 

Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption can significantly affect the health and wellbeing of elderly individuals. By understanding the risks associated with these disruptions and implementing strategies to promote healthy sleep habits, we can enhance the quality of life for older adults.