Your primary care doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter, know that many of our patients experience differing types and degrees of insomnia at all ages, but quality sleep becomes more elusive in older people. Now a new study published in the journal Neuron this month explains why. Popular wisdom until now has held that older adults sleep less because they need less sleep, but that is not the case. The Sleep Foundation says that older people need the same seven-to-nine hours of sleep as everyone else. The problem is, they can’t get it.
When you become tired, the body sends chemical signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep, but researchers at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, said that as people age, the brain receptors that receive those signals begin to decline. Matthew Walker, the lead study author, explained in a press release that this means even though people may feel tired enough to sleep, the brain is no longer receiving the direction to do so.
“It’s almost like a radio antenna that’s weak,” Walker said. “The signal is there but the antenna just can’t pick it up.”
This becomes an issue for the health of older adults because lack of quality sleep has been implicated in the triggering or worsening of numerous health issues, from diabetes and obesity to cardiovascular disease. Other recognized effects of sleep deprivation have particular relevance for older people: cognitive impairment, unsteadiness which can lead to falls, and even higher mortality rates.
Walker went on to explain that because of the decline in receptor activity, by the time a person reaches age 50, they will be achieving only about half of the deep sleep they were getting in their 20s. By age 70, they will have almost no deep sleep. Sleeping pills can keep a person asleep, he said, but does not induce the necessary deep sleep.
Walker concluded that sleep deprivation is actually the cause of aging, rather than vice versa.
“Or at least it’s a two-way street I think, and maybe the fact that it’s flowing in more than one direction. In other words, I think sleep disruption is a novel, under-appreciated fact that is contributing to age and dementia as we get older,” he said.
There are many non-drug treatment approaches to address poor sleep. Please contact our direct primary care doctors at MD 2.0 Jupiter if you are experiencing any issues with insomnia. We can help!