Senior and sleep: everything you need to know

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Did you know that? The quality of sleep plays a major role in the quality of learning, memory and, more broadly, cognitive functions. As we age, the quality of our sleep changes. Some sleep disorders may also occur. The solution to continue to sleep well and stay in shape? Adapt your lifestyle!

The evolution of sleep with age

A night’s sleep is made up of cycles, themselves composed of 3 phases:

  • Light sleep,
  • deep sleep,

  • REM sleep.

First, there is light sleep, which corresponds to a phase of falling asleep and a sleep during which the muscles and the brain are put on standby. However, an unexpected sound or light may wake you up. It is during deep sleep that the body and mind relax completely: it is therefore the most restful phase. Finally, REM sleep is characterized by a resumption of brain activity, while the muscles remain relaxed. This phase is therefore marked by dreams… or nightmares!

From the age of 50 onwards, the deep sleep phases tend to shorten, while the light sleep phases lengthen. The night of the seniors is more punctuated by micro-awakenings, and the body needs more time to recover.

Studies tend to point to other physiological changes. This makes it more difficult for the body to regulate itself in cold or hot weather, which contributes to a longer sleep period. Seniors’ nights tend to be long: they sleep an average of 7 hours and 13 minutes during the week and 7 hours and 30 minutes on weekends, nearly an hour more than their younger counterparts.

Sleep disorders in seniors


Age favors the onset of sleep apnea and snoring. If this is likely to disturb your spouse’s sleep, these breathing pauses may be related to various disorders – including heart disease. It is therefore recommended to consult quickly in order to receive appropriate treatment.

Some treatments may also interfere with sleep. This is particularly true of corticosteroids, diuretics and beta blockers. If this is the case, you should discuss it with your doctor.

Do you tend to toss and turn in your sleep? Perhaps you are part of the 4% of French people suffering from restless legs syndrome. However, you may simply be experiencing more restless sleep than in the past. This breaks up your sleep… and may cause some bruising to your spouse. If these disorders become too invasive, it is again recommended to talk to your doctor.

Good to know: many seniors wake up very early and can no longer sleep. This phenomenon is often mistakenly equated with insomnia. In fact, it is generally a slight shift in the internal clock, which leads to going to bed too early… and waking up too early!


How to sleep well as a senior


If it is wise to consult in case of persistent sleep disorders, medical treatment is far from being a fatality! The truth is, sometimes all it takes is a few adjustments to keep you sleeping well and feeling great after 50.

Having trouble sleeping? First, make sure your sleeping environment is suitable! Be careful not to overheat the room, and keep the temperature at 18°C. Don’t hesitate to invest in comforters adapted to each season, so that you will never be too hot or too cold. Treat yourself to a good pillow as well.

In terms of lifestyle, adopt a few good habits:

  • Be physically active, preferably in the morning;
  • Eat your meals at regular times;
  • Don’t overdo it with excitants: tea, coffee, etc. ;
  • Go for a light dinner, opting for a slow sugar.

Finally, be sure to expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible: this will allow your biological clock to maintain an optimal rhythm!

Link between memory and sleep


There is a link between memory and sleep. The most important phase of sleep for memory is deep sleep. This phase has two roles: to prepare the brain circuits to collect new information and to ensure the consolidation of the information already encoded. During deep sleep, information related to declarative memory (episodic and semantic) is mainly consolidated. This memory is linked to our personal experiences.

On the other hand, during light sleep, procedural memory is consolidated, i.e. memory related to motor and perceptual skills.

In general, it is during sleep that our brain decides if the information we have gathered during the day is important or not. It will therefore sort out the information. Important information will be sent to the long-term memory. On the contrary, less important information will be forgotten.

Are dreams linked to memory?


Yes, dreams are linked to memory! When we have dreams, we see images that are related to our knowledge or experiences. Dreams are considered to be brain reactivations that correspond to the memory of recent experiences.

Of course, sometimes dreams are absurd, sometimes they represent things that have not yet happened. In all cases, dreams are based on our emotions and our previous experiences. One should not try to find meaning in dreams, even if it is a practice that is very popular. It’s true that, by being linked to our experiences, dreams almost always have a meaning. But this meaning can be very deep or very abstract.

So we know that dreams are linked to our memories, but it is not yet known whether or not dreams help to consolidate new information.

Often we do not remember the dreams we have had, and this is normal. To remember these dreams, you have to wake up right after.

Link between attention and sleep


During the day you have difficulty staying focused? Do the noises around you distract you more easily? Are you losing the thread of your ideas? The cause may be insomnia.

Indeed, concentration and sleep are linked.

There are more and more people who have sleep disorders. Before the pandemic, 10% of adults suffered from insomnia. After the pandemic, it went up to 26%.

Studies have shown that when a person sleeps poorly, their ability to concentrate is limited. Indeed, the brain’s reaction time is longer and the brain cannot sort out the information it receives.

Train your cognitive functions with your JOE coach

Brain training programs


There are many ways to exercise your memory and cognitive functions. Daily practice of brain exercises reduces the risk of neurological disorders, as some programs act on all cognitive functions.

The JOE Brain Training program was designed specifically for adults to keep the brain healthy through fun and challenging brain exercises. It has over 30 cognitive games and targets concentration, focus, reflexes, language and many other cognitive functions.

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