Sleep researchers say older adults should seek treatment for sleep disorders and try to get more rest if they want to reduce their risk of health problems.
“Nearly every disease killing us later in life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience and the author of a recent article on the topic published in the journal Neuron.
In his article, Walker says the unmet sleep needs of the elderly raise their risk of memory loss along with a number of mental and physical disorders, including problems with memory, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
According to the medical director of Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance, eight to 10 per cent of Canadians suffer from sleep disorders and overall sleep quality deteriorates with age.
“There is a misconception that as people age, they require less sleep. That’s actually not true,” said Dr. Charles Samuels. “What happens over a lifetime is people become accustomed to less and poor quality sleep, so when they become 60 or 70 and they’re not getting their sleep, they normalize it.”
Samuels says anyone experiencing problems with sleeping over time should speak to their doctor and ask to be referred to a specialist. He says common conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea are treatable, often without the use of prescription drugs.
“In general, treatment for insomnia should be behavioural modifications and medication shouldn’t be used at the first line of treatment.”