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Getting good sleep a challenge as you age

Most people need about the same amount of sleep but there is much higher incidence of sleep problems in the elderly. Much like everything else slows down with age, so do some of the mechanisms of the brain that affect sleep.

It's a problem that Dr. Stephen Snell with ENT Clinic calls a "maintenance problem."

"It's sleep maintenance," he said, " because they are not getting good enough sleep through the night."

That makes for a difficult time for elderly folks the next day.

"The idea is quality consolidated sleep is what everyone needs, and the elderly tend to have more of a problem with that," Snell said. "Also, the older we get the more additional medical problems we have. There are a lot of medicines that people take that can affect sleep."

Retired people who are not as active during the day may experience fatigue and that can affect the sleep cycle. Circadian rhythm may also fall into play.

"It's not quite a 24-hour rhythm, but during a certain period of time we get very sleepy because the brain kicks in and says we need to sleep," Snell said. "Then there is a smaller little cycle like that in the afternoon. That's when we get tired early in the afternoon, especially after we eat. In the elderly, that circadian rhythm isn't as well defined just because of the aging process. The various hormones in the brain, such as melatonin decreases in the elderly. That's a sleep promoting substance in the brain."

The Lawton Constitution

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