Back to homepage

Addressing Late-life Insomnia by Improving Emotional Health

Addressing Late-life Insomnia by Improving Emotional Health

Addressing Late-life Insomnia by Improving Emotional Health


Aging can bring about some changes in your sleep patterns. It is natural to sleep less at night as you increase your “nap time” during the day. It is also expected to wake up earlier than usual as your bedtime may be earlier. If the change in your sleep pattern is causing you to toss and turn during the night and it is affecting your moods and health, though, it can impact your physical and emotional health.

Sleeplessness isn’t good, regardless of age, particularly when you have age-related or chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular issues. Assuming that sleeping less is typical in older adults, you may be depriving yourself of sleep. This assumption can also cause you to not seek help from a qualified professional, so the insomnia is undiagnosed and untreated, causing you to struggle with sleep deprivation longer than necessary.  

What is insomnia? Experts define it as the “difficulty of falling asleep and staying asleep.” The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that sleeping less is common among seniors, but it doesn’t mean that they need less hours of sleep. In fact, healthy seniors generally get a good night’s sleep on most nights. In a study that NSF conducted, it was concluded that though aging can “cause certain aspects of sleep to be more difficult, many older adults said they still feel good during the day.”

According to the NSF, “golden agers” and over need around seven to nine hours of sleep. This is important, especially when you have health issues or a weakening immune system. If “counting sheep” is becoming a nightly ritual, it is time to change your strategy. Seek help from a professional. A physician can rule out a medical cause and a behavioral health professional can assist if it is connected to an emotional cause.


Aging and the Changing Sleep Pattern

Sleeping less might be something you expect with aging, so you may ignore it when it happens. Having more free time now allows you to take power naps every now and then, so you are not as tired or sleepy when you “hit the sack.” Your doctor may say that your circadian rhythm may shift because of the changes in certain biological processes. In addition, staying indoors for longer hours now can also alter your biological clock. Scientific studies also reveal that sleep time shortens for seniors because when aging their REM sleep becomes lighter and shorter.  What does this mean?

A good quality night of sleep consists of four stages of non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep and one stage of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. The fifth stage is when dreaming occurs. The whole cycle of five stages can be completed in 90 to110 minutes or about one-and-a-half hours. This is the kind of sleep that younger and healthier people have nightly, who are usually tired by bedtime. It is nature’s way of revitalizing a biological machine that needs to be up and about for another day of work.  

Among seniors, sleep has the tendency not to progress into the fifth stage, so the cycle span is cut shorter. Young people typically experience four to five cycles, while seniors have fewer. Without the last stage of REM sleep, they may experience fewer dreams, or none at all.  Your other habits may also affect your night’s sleep, such as consuming coffee, spending long hours at home, and napping during the day. The slowing of your metabolic processes and waking up earlier may also affect your need to go to the bathroom or not.


Other Causes of Late-life Insomnia

Late-life insomnia has other possible causes. It can be linked to your medical issues. Waking up with frequency during the night can trigger or aggravate insomnia. This is the case with diabetes, enlargement of the prostate (for males), and incontinence. Insomnia is also commonly observed among seniors with neurodegenerative conditions. As well as lung and heart conditions. If you are struggling with painful conditions like the effects of cancer, arthritis and heartburn, you may also stay awake for long hours at night. 

Polypharmacy or taking multiple medications may also impact the quality of your sleep. Drugs are famous for their side effects and interactions – any of these can affect sleep or trigger insomnia. If there are prescribed medications that you must take before bedtime, it would be prudent to ask your doctor about their effects on sleep. The state of your emotional health may similarly impact your sleep. It may indicate conditions, such as depression and anxiety, which, incidentally, have a high prevalence among older adults.

Whether insomnia is the main cause of your chronic sleeplessness or an indication of another disorder, it needs undivided attention. Ignoring it can lead to the worsening of the condition, physical or emotional, as it goes undiagnosed, unchecked and untreated. If insomnia is a primary condition, it must also be treated immediately because sleep deprivation can damage your physical and emotional health.


The Emotional Health-Insomnia Link

According to Jo Abbott of the Swinburne University of Technology, insomnia and emotional conditions have a two-way relationship. Simply stated, this means that “about 50 percent of adults with insomnia have an emotional or behavioral health problem, while up to 90 percent of adults with depression experience sleep problems.”  The relationship is supported by a number of studies.

The studies conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reveal that sleeplessness can meaningfully contribute to the start, development and/or worsening of emotional conditions. It was explicitly seen that those with insomnia had unusual activity in the part of the brain referred to as the amygdala, which functions in the processing and regulation of emotions. Diminishing this activity can be ineffective based on studies using brain scans.

Sleep deprivation requires immediate attention, especially late in life because it can also impair your brain from efficiently processing negative emotions. A study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that it can lower inhibition while increasing the response to a negative stimulus. These findings indicate that emotional balance can be more challenging with insomnia.


The Depression-Insomnia Link

The link between depression and insomnia is an important subject worth noting, considering that about 80 percent of the American senior population experience insomnia. According to Web MD, there are six million insomniacs who are also weighed down by geriatric depression. It is, therefore, noteworthy to wonder if depression is the primary cause or the secondary factor of insomnia.

Considering this link, it is an intelligent choice to seek help if you are experiencing insomnia. Ignoring sleep deprivation may lead to not receiving the proper kind of care if you have depression. It can be difficult to discern your sleeplessness or its cause. It must be professionally done by physicians and behavioral health professionals. Like other medical and emotional conditions, there are signs to check to give proper diagnosis and treatment. There are several types of depression. The type called “subsyndromal depression” commonly affects seniors. The cause isn’t clearly defined because it can have multiple origins.

Seniors are vulnerable to depression. They are naturally susceptible because aging can lower the levels of neurotransmitters – norepinephrine and serotonin – that regulate emotions. They also easily succumb to depression because of their growing physical concerns, their tendency to have reduced mobility and increased disabilities, and a tendency to develop cognitive conditions and other age-related medical conditions.

Other psychosocial factors can influence their vulnerability, such as becoming isolated, having an introverted nature and possibly financial issues. According to Healthline, “limited mobility, isolation, facing mortality, transitioning from work to retirement, financial hardships, prolonged substance abuse, deaths of friends and loved ones, widowhood or divorce, and chronic medical conditions” can contribute to senior depression.


“Counting Sheep” – No More with Counseling/Therapy

While it is understandable that your sleep patterns will change, it should not lead to excessively losing sleep. Sleep is important to your health. Considering your vulnerability to geriatric medical conditions and depression, you must act on sleeplessness as soon as you notice that it is becoming chronic. To be sure that it is properly diagnosed and treated, seek professional help from a counselor/therapist independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office – Fayetteville, NC.

Aging is unavoidable. You can better appreciate this new phase of life if you are physically and emotionally healthy. There are many reasons to stay physically vigorous and alert. Sure, there will be challenges that come with aging, but know that you can still enjoy life and build wonderful memories with your friends and loved ones. Stay emotionally healthy with a little help from a professional you can trust. Stop insomnia from darkening the “twilight years” of your senior life. Stop depression early in its tracks now. Call Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office – Fayetteville, NC so you can stop counting sheep night after night.

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Fayetteville, NC (North)

Counties: Cumberland, Bladen and Sampson Counties, NC

Areas: Fayetteville NC, Ft Bragg NC, Pope Field NC, Sliver City NC, Linden NC, Bunnlevel NC, Erwin NC, Dundarrach NC, Rex NC,and Wade, NC

Zip Codes: 28311, 28395, 28390, 28356

Counseling Information

How Do I Set Up my FIRST Appointment?

  • Call: 910-636-0011 (Fastest way to schedule)
  • Text: 910-308-3291 (Reply will be via phone)
  • Click here and use our Contact Form (You must include your phone number, because replies will only be made by telephone to ensure security/privacy)
  • Call or Text for your New Patient Appointment Anytime!
  • Appointment scheduling for NEW clients: Mon-Fri
  • Established/Standing Appointments are made directly with your therapist!
  • Referrals: MOST beneficiaries do NOT need a Referral!

Other Contact Info

If you have a compliment, concern or comments please contact:

Contact Management:
click here

If you need to speak specifically to the owner
Click here and use our Contact Form

Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office, Fayetteville, NC

422 McArthur Road, Suite 2
FayettevilleNC 28311

Our Mailing Address:

PO BOX 9909
Fayetteville, NC 28311

Choose your Therapist

  • Becky Clark, MSW, LCSW

    Specializes in: (Ages 18+) Anxiety, Depression, Individuals, Couples, Geriatrics, Criminal Justice, Stress Management, Loss and Grief related to death, disability, divorce, deployment, “empty nest”, retirement and other major life transitions
    Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Medicare, and Cash

    Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

    Location: Fayetteville, NC