MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Do you feel like you never sleep soundly through the night? It turns out, you’re not alone. As we get older, we’re more likely to report waking up two, three, even four times a night. So, why is it harder to sleep when you’re older? Good Question.
“You’ve been waking up about every 90 minutes every night your whole life. You were just unaware of it,” says Dr. Michael Howell, a sleep expert at the University of Minnesota. “Now you’re more aware of the awakenings you do have.”
Dr. Howell says the connections in our neurons, or brain cells, are more dense when we’re younger. It’s those denser connections that lead to more slow-wave, or dense, sleep. Children’s brains are still developing, so all of these connections are trying to figure out which ones are important and which ones aren’t.
By about age 30, once our brains are developed, those connections become less dense. This makes our sleep lighter and makes us more aware of when we wake up.
But, many people attribute their wake-up patterns to stress.
“When we’re stressed out, we don’t sleep well, no question about it,” Dr. Howell said. “But this process is deeper. This process is occurring as we age.”
Others say what wakes them up is the need to go to the bathroom. Dr. Howell says, especially among men, that’s a condition comes with age.
“When we’re older, we often need to go the bathroom more during the day,” he says. “Not unexpectedly, we have to go more frequently at night.”
Dr. Howell also points to conditions that make it difficult to sleep — like restless leg syndrome, insomnia and sleep apnea — are more likely to occur when people are older. He says sleep apnea is more common as we age because they tissue around the upper airway starts collapsing and gets looser with age.
Finally, he says don’t be alarmed if you wake up several times a night.
“It’s perfectly normal for us to go to bed, wake up intermittently every couple of hours, spend one to five minutes awake and fall back to sleep… as long as you fall back to sleep,” he says.
If you have lots of trouble over time falling back to sleep or wake up totally exhausted each morning, it could be something to check out.
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