Aging and Sleep

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often to very low. This alerts the brain, causing a brief arousal (awakening) and breathing resumes. These stoppages of breathing can occur repeatedly, causing multiple sleep disruptions throughout the night and result in excessive daytime sleepiness and impaired daytime function.

Untreated sleep apnea puts a person at risk for cardiovascular disease, headaches, memory loss and depression. It is a serious disorder that is easily treated. If you experience snoring on a regular basis and it can be heard from another room or you have been told you stop breathing or make loud or gasping noises during your sleep, these are signs that you might have sleep apnea and it should be discussed with your doctor.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological movement disorders characterized by an irresistible urge to move the limbs. With RLS, unpleasant, tingling, creeping or pulling feelings occur mostly in the legs, become worse in the evening and make it difficult to sleep through the night. Its prevalence increases with age and about 10% of people in North America and Europe are reported to experience RLS symptoms. About 80% of people with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) and in one study, it was found that approximately 45% of all older persons have at least a mild form of PLMD.

As we age, there is an increased incidence of medical problems, which are often chronic. In general, people with poor health or chronic medical conditions have more sleep problems. For example, hypertension is associated with both snoring and OSA and heart failure - which affects approximately 5 million Americans - is linked with OSA. In addition, menopause and its accompanying hot flashes, changes in breathing, and decreasing hormone levels can lead to many restless nights.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another common cause of sleep problems. The pain also makes it difficult to sleep. Medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus, renal failure, respiratory diseases such as asthma, and immune disorders are all associated with sleep problems and disorders. Diseases such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis also commonly cause problems sleeping.

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