Aging Brain to Blame for Sleeping Difficulty

Julia Little  |  August 21, 2011

Caregivers may already be aware that older adults have a more difficult time falling asleep, but they may not know the specific reasons behind this kind of insomnia. A new study conducted at the University of California Los Angeles recently shed light on the topic.

Researchers discovered that the brain's master circadian clock, which regulates sleep cycles, starts to break down around middle age.

"Aging has a profound effect on circadian timing," said senior author of the study Gene Block. "It is very clear that animals' circadian systems begin to deteriorate as they age, and humans have enormous problems with the quality of their sleep as they age, difficulty adjusting to time-zone changes and difficulty performing shift-work, as well as less alertness when awake. There is a real change in the sleep-wake cycle."

A sleepless night for an elderly adult can mean a sleepless night for a caregiver as well. If this pattern continues - and a loved one needs care whenever he or she is awake - it may be best to look into an assisted living community, where residents are provided for at any time of night.

Experts generally recommend exercise, mindful consumption of caffeine and calming rituals before bed as ways to fall asleep faster. Ambient noises can also be remarkably helpful if one continues to wake up in the middle of the night.  

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