Aging, Sleep and Your Gut, Changes and Warning Signs

Don’t worry, if it hasn’t happened yet, it will. As we get older we start having problems with our gut and sleep. Better sleep means better health. Preparing for aging is important for health, family, and finances.

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Aging, Sleep and Your Gut, Changes and Warning Signs
4 Min Read July 13th, 2020 Updated:December 22nd, 2022

It starts to happen as we get older. Sleep can become more difficult. You probably have experienced it - our mind races, and our gut sometimes does not cooperate. All we want is a good night's sleep. The need for sleep is even more critical as we get older.

If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Cleveland Clinic sleep specialist Michelle Drerup, PsyD, says that about 30% of adults have insomnia symptoms. 

Most people, if they don't have any sleep difficulties, probably fall asleep within 10 to 20 minutes. It varies as well. If it takes someone 45 minutes to fall asleep and that's normal for them and they allow enough time, it's not necessarily a problem.

Our sleep patterns change as we age. These changes are a normal part of getting "more mature" (a nicer way to say we are getting older). We wake up more often. Sometimes we have to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Other times our stomach might be keeping us up.

According to the National Institute of Health, sleep time decreases as we age. Often, people find it harder to fall asleep. The transition between sleep and waking up can become abrupt, making people feel like they are a "lighter sleeper" compared to when they were younger.

We Wake More Often Every Night

Since older people wake up an average of 3 or 4 times each night, there is less time spent in a deep sleep. According to Harvard Medical School, poor sleep increases amyloid deposition. The problem is amyloid deposition compromises the quality of your sleep. 

For people with dementia getting a good night's sleep can be challenging. Harvard says that people with Alzheimer's disease are also prone to sleep problems. The problems include insomnia at night and excessive sleeping during the day.

As we age, we sometimes face problems with our digestive system. In turn, this will add difficulties with sleep. The problems with our gut are partly due to years of effects from our diet. Things like lifestyle, medical issues, and even medications we take add to the problem.

Diet, Sleep, Aging, and Declining Health

Dr. Drerup said eating a diet high in sugar, saturated fat, and processed carbohydrates can disrupt sleep. However, eating foods that are good for our overall health can help with sleep.

Both your quality sleep and digestive health go together. Kelly Jones, RD, LDN says that your routine at bedtime can support your gut and digestive health and help your sleep and overall health.

In an article on Well and Good, Jones says it is best to stick to consistent meal times, particularly with dinner. The article offers five ideas to try before you go to bed that you can try.

Be Aware of the Gut Warning Signs

You should be aware of several warning signs that your gut issues and related problems may be a more significant health issue that a doctor needs to address. The Canadian Society of Intestinal Research says you should see your doctor if you face a sudden onset of the following symptoms:

  • bleeding/anemia
  • unplanned weight loss
  • fever
  • nocturnal bowel movements
  • family/personal history of colon cancer

Sleep Problems are Common

Remember, doctors say insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults aged 60 and above. Many medical issues can make the situation worse. Whether it's our gut, bladder, aches and pains, sleep apnea, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, and the medications we take, all factor into the problem.

There's more to good sleep than just the hours spent in bed, says Dr. Marishka Brown, a sleep expert at the National Institutes of Health.

Healthy sleep encompasses three major things. One is how much sleep you get. Another is sleep quality—that you get uninterrupted and refreshing sleep. The last is a consistent sleep schedule.

Do you drink coffee, soft drinks, or other caffeinated liquids? Dr. Drerup suggests avoiding caffeine in the early afternoon. Activity can be beneficial as well. She says regular exercise can increase sleep quality and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep. 

Along with lifestyle changes, people can try using white noise, like the sound of a fan, to wind down. She said a constant sound creates a masking effect to block out other background noises.  

Avoid 'Overthinking"

Above all, Dr. Drerup stresses it's crucial to avoid overthinking when trying to get some rest.

If you think about someone who sleeps well, they probably don't think about sleep at all. They just listen to their body when they feel sleepy and that's when they go to bed. They don't have these rules, or they don't have any real thoughts about sleep.

 

Dr. Drerup says when someone has sleep difficulties, they get anxious about sleep. 

 

They start to dread going to bed. The harder you try to sleep, the least successful you're going to be. 

If someone has a persistent issue with their sleep, Dr. Drerup encourages them to take note of their sleeping patterns and talk to their health care provider.

Good Sleep Should Be a Goal

A good night's sleep is good for anyone's health, especially as we get older. It adds to an individual's energy and overall medical and physical health. Being proactive and seeing your doctor regularly will ease your aging and health problems.

Not getting enough quality sleep regularly increases the risk of a variety of diseases and disorders. These include everything from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia.

Longevity Brings Challenges for Family and Finances

Longevity has its benefits, but a long life also brings problems. One of these problems is a higher risk of needing help with everyday living activities. Our risk of needing long-term health care services increases as we age. Memory issues bring the need for supervision. With aging, many face a higher risk of cognitive decline.

This extended care is costly. The cost of a nursing home averages over $100,000 a year. However, most long-term care services are not provided in nursing homes. Most care is provided at home, adult day care centers, assisted living, and memory care centers. Home care and assisted living are also costly. The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator will show you the current and future cost of care where you live.

How Do You Pay for Long-Term Health Care?

Many are unaware that health insurance, including Medicare and supplements, will not pay for most long-term health care. Sure, medical issues, like sleep disorders, are covered by traditional health insurance. However, complications like long-term care are not.

The care someone needs for help with daily living activities or supervision due to memory loss can drain income and assets quickly. Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for skilled or custodial care in any setting. The problem is you cannot purchase LTC Insurance when someone "need care." It must be purchased when someone has reasonably good health. Most people do so in their 50s. 

Medicaid will pay for long-term care services, but it will only provide benefits when someone has little or no income and assets.

This leaves your income and assets to pay for long-term care services or loved ones becoming unpaid caregivers. Sometimes it means both. Preparing for the financial costs and burdens of getting older or other health issues will reduce the stress on your family as you safeguard your savings.

Be Proactive with Health and Planning

For many American families having a Long-Term Care Insurance policy is an essential part of retirement planning. It will not prevent you from needing extended health care, but it will safeguard your family's assets and ease the stress otherwise placed on those you love. 

Seek an expert if you are considering shopping for Long-Term Care Insurance. Premiums vary dramatically, and underwriting criteria also vary between insurance companies. Long-Term Care Insurance specialists will ask detailed questions about health and family history to provide accurate quotes from all the top companies. 

Since these products are highly regulated, the primary differences are often underwriting and pricing. Several types of policies are available; one will match your needs and budget.

Types Of Long-Term Care Insurance Policies & Which Is Best For You?

Don't lose sleep about getting older and the consequences of aging. Having a Long-Term Care Insurance policy will reduce some of the stress in your gut caused by anxiety. That in itself can lead to better sleep!

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About the Author

Linda Kople is a freelance writer with a personal family history in long-term care. She specializes in aging-related topics such as caregiving, health, and retirement planning. Her experiences and interests drive her to explore and write about the various aspects of aging and health issues.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

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- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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