What are the Best Sleep Positions For Seniors & Elderly?

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Your sleeping position has everything to do with a good night’s sleep. In fact, if you want to enhance the quality of sleep and overall health and well-being, examining your sleeping position can be a great place to start… especially as you age. Here are the best sleep positions for seniors and the elderly.

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Sleep is vital for all beings including seniors and elderly adults. But, many older adults have sleep problems since their sleep patterns change frequently. They struggle to fall asleep, wake up, and reach a state of deep sleep at night. When the struggle becomes consistent, it cannot be considered a normal part of aging. In fact, these can be symptoms of an underlying sleep-related problem.

If a senior adult sleeps in a position that doesn’t properly support his/her body, it may create extra pressure and increase their pain. There are many benefits of having a good night’s sleep. It helps you get sick less often, maintain a healthy weight, lower your risk of serious health issues, improve your mood & reduce stress, think more clearly, focus better, make good decisions, and get along better with people. That is why you need to improve the quality and quantity of sleep at night.

How To Choose The Right Sleep Position For You?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right sleeping position for you. In fact, physical and medical conditions as well as your personal preferences play an important role in this regard. For example, your age, snoring, sleep apnea, back pain, shoulder pain, and other factors should be considered when choosing the right position to get the maximum amount of quality sleep at night.

If you are already used to a certain sleeping position, it might be challenging to revert to a new position. In fact, while we are asleep, we may revert to what is familiar. Using back supports and the best pillows will help you stay in the new position during your sleep. Here are the best sleep positions for seniors suffering from various health conditions:

Sleep Positions For Seniors With Back And Neck Pain

The latest studies show that a senior adult could relieve back and shoulder pain and improve sleep quality by modifying his/her sleep position. If you suffer from lower or upper back pain, sleeping on your back helps distribute the body weight across the entire spine. Placing a pillow under your knees will help maintain the natural curve of the spine.

If you suffer from neck pain, you should sleep on your back or the side to relieve the pain associated with the condition. Seniors with elbow injuries should not sleep on the side with an arm overhead. This position can delay the healing of elbow injuries. If you have tennis elbow and prefer to sleep on your side, you should keep the arm down.

RELATED: Best Mattresses for Seniors Who Sleep on Their Backs

However, this is one of the worst sleeping positions for senior adults with breathing problems. The gravitational force enhances the capacity of your tongue and jaw to drop down towards the throat in this position. In fact, it will narrow the airways as a result and cause various breathing problems when sleeping.

The supine sleeping position or sleeping on the back can also trigger other conditions including insomnia, snoring, short-term memory loss, hearing loss, and mood swings. So, a senior adult should not sleep in this position if he or she has breathing and snoring issues.

woman with arthritic hip pain sleeping on her side
Most seniors should sleep on their side with their head slightly elevated for most medical conditions.

Sleep Positions For Seniors With Snoring And Sleep Apnea

Seniors with sleep apnea and other snoring problems will experience more light sleep and less quality sleep during the night. On the other hand, seniors with snoring problems can negatively impact the quality of sleep of their partners.

The correct body position during sleep can help reduce snoring and improve sleep apnea. Research shows that sleeping on your sides helps decrease the severity and frequency of snoring problems in senior adults.

In addition to the position of sleep, seniors suffering from snoring problems should avoid alcohol and sleeping pills, maintain the correct weight, exercise regularly, quit smoking, and use an appropriate oral appliance to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea.

RELATED: Best Sleeping Position for Arthritic Knees

Sleep Positions For Seniors With GERD Symptoms

There is a close connection between GERD and disturbed sleep. In fact, lack of sleep can induce gastrointestinal disturbances and gastrointestinal disturbances may worsen sleep disturbances.

GERD reduces the quality and quantity of your sleep. You may find it difficult to fall asleep or wake early in the morning due to GERD symptoms. Lying on the left side is the perfect sleeping position for seniors suffering from various gastrointestinal problems including GERD.

Experts believe that right-side sleeping can relax the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the symptoms of GERD while left-side sleeping helps keep the intersection between the esophagus and stomach above the level of gastric acid.

Avoid The Prone Sleeping Position

The prone sleeping position is where you sleep on the stomach facing the bed. Your head will be buried in the pillow in this position. Your nose and mouth get blocked by the pillow in the prone position. So, this isn’t a good sleeping position for seniors and the elderly. It can affect breathing and block the respiratory system of the individual. This sleeping posture can also result in cervical problems, digestive issues, and neck pain over time.

Plus, the prone position can also interfere with the alignment of the spine. The senior will be forced to turn his/her head to the left or right from time to time – which causes the neck to stay bent for the most part of sleep. You’ll be susceptible to neck pain the next morning, the more you sleep in this position.

Also, there is more strain exerted on the shoulder as you sleep in this position. It can result in shoulder pain and muscles aches once you wake up the next morning. Any senior adult with breathing issues should not try this sleeping position since the weight exerted on the chest will restrict the lung volume as well as the movement of the rib cage and diaphragm. That is why senior adults should avoid the prone sleeping position.

RELATED: Best Sleeping Position for Arthritic Hips?

Don’t Cross Your Arms Under The Pillow

Sleeping with their arms raised under the pillow is too risky for senior adults. When you were young, this may have been your favorite sleeping position, but as you grow old, it is best that you avoid such a sleeping position. Your arm will lose circulation and feel numb if you continue to sleep in this position for too long.

Other Considerations

If changing your sleeping position doesn’t address the underlying sleeping problem, a change of mattress might be a great option. A professional sleep therapist can help you choose the best mattress and bedding to improve your sleep quality at night. The mattress should help distribute your body weight evenly across the surface of it. It helps prevent unnecessary pains and pressure on the body.

Conclusion

Sleep is vital for better health and well-being in the long run. Senior adults should get at least 7-8 hours of continuous sleep during the night. If you have sleeping issues at night, changing your sleep position can be of some help to you. Examining your current sleep position can be a great place to start.

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