Sleep Tips For Seniors And The Elderly

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Improving your sleep habits is crucial to maintaining good health and well-being over time. This guide provides information on some of the most common underlying causes of sleep problems in older adults and important sleep tips for seniors and the elderly.

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Are you a senior experiencing sleeping problems? If so, you have come to the right place. People usually experience changes in their sleeping patterns as they age. Sleeping earlier, waking up earlier, or not experiencing deep sleep are some of the most common problems faced by seniors and the elderly.

If you regularly experience such problems, you might be suffering from insomnia which affects millions of people around the world. Insomnia is not a normal part of aging and may require immediate treatments to solve the issue.

A good night’s sleep is crucial to improving concentration, memory formation, and repairing cell damage in seniors. It also refreshes your immune system and helps wade off diseases that are common with old age.

When you don’t get enough sleep at night, it can affect your mood and lead to anxiety, depression, and memory problems during the daytime. You may also experience excessive daytime sleepiness and an increased risk of serious health problems including weight problems, heart attacks, diabetes, and breast cancer.

Top Causes Of Sleep Problems With Aging

Some changes in your sleep patterns are normal when aging. In fact, older adults get sleepy earlier in the evening and tend to sleep less deeply at night. It is not realistic to expect to sleep as you did during your younger years when aging.

But if you are regularly disturbed in your sleep and think that you won’t get enough sleep at night, there may be many causes for your sleep problem. Here are the top causes of sleep issues when you are aging:

Underlying medical problems

Many older adults experience secondary sleep problems meaning they are secondary to an underlying medical condition. For example, lung conditions can affect your sleep by affecting your breathing like in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

On the other hand, urinary conditions can increase the urge to urinate at night and disturb your sleep in the process. Enlarged prostate or an overactive bladder can be the actual cause of such issues.

Painful conditions, including osteoarthritis, can keep you awake at night while gastroesophageal reflux disease may cause heartburn symptoms and affect the quality of your sleep.

woman smiling after waking up with a good night's sleep
An uninterrupted night of restful sleep is the key to waking up ready for the day to come.

Sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD)

Examples include sleep apnea and snoring. Sleep apnea is the most common SRBD condition that affects aging adults. It is also connected with many other health problems. The person will experience frequent pauses in his/her breathing at night with sleep apnea.

In a study involving a group of 800 seniors aged 68 years and above with signs of sleep-related breathing disorders, more than 37% met the criteria for significant sleep apnea. If you suffer from serious sleep apnea and snoring problems, you should consult a qualified healthcare provider for effective treatments.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS)

RLS causes sensations of itching and restlessness just as an older adult is trying to fall asleep. The symptoms are not painful but unpleasant and may disturb the senior’s sleep at night.

Insomnia

Insomnia makes it difficult for an older adult to fall asleep or stay asleep despite being in bed. The adult will experience decreased daytime function due to this condition.

Periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS)

PLMS will cause intermittent movements in the lower limbs while the person is asleep. It usually affects the ankles, toes, knees, and hips. The movements can wake the person up and disturb the sleep of his/her partner.

How Much Sleep Does An Older Adult Need?

Even though sleep patterns change with aging, adults who are 65 years and older need between 7-8 hours of sleep at night to function efficiently the next morning. They need this sleep over a continuous period of time too.

In fact, some adults might need slightly less or slightly more sleep depending on their individual needs. For example, some seniors may have a sleep pattern that makes them feel fully refreshed with only 6 hours of sleep. Meanwhile, others may require 9 or more hours of sleep to function optimally.

RELATED: The Best Sleeping Position for Older Adults

Sleep Tips For Seniors And The Elderly

Lack of sleep should not be taken lightly since it can depress the immune system and make you prone to illnesses. It also affects your daily activities and increases confusion. Lack of sleep can impact your attention and concentration and result in falls and accidents. Here are some of the most effective sleep tips for seniors for improving your sleep hygiene.

Address Snoring Issues

If snoring is serious enough to disrupt your breathing, you might be suffering from sleep apnea. The best thing is to talk with your family doctor to address your snoring issue and improve your sleep at night.

Your doctor may recommend a quality mouth device to deliver neuromuscular stimulation to the tongue to reduce snoring or sleep apnea. Addressing your snoring issues is one of the most important tips to improve your sleep at night and feel fresh the next morning.

Adhere To A More Consistent Sleep Routine

Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time the next morning will help your body adhere to a consistent sleep routine. It is important to find a routine, aka sleep hygiene, that works best for you and train your mind and body to follow that routine.

A consistent sleep schedule should help limit the naps you take during the day. In fact, extended naps make it difficult for a person to fall asleep at night. If you feel you need a nap during the day, limit it to under 20-30 minutes to prevent disruptions to your natural sleep pattern. Most adults find it easier to sleep at night when they follow such a routine.

Make The Bedroom A Place For Sleeping

The sleeping environment affects the quality of your sleep at night. Most adults find it difficult to fall asleep in an environment with bright light and loud noises. The right sleep temperature for seniors should also be maintained so that your body feels comfortable when trying to get some sleep at night.

In fact, your sleep environment should always be dark, quiet, and cool. This type of environment will encourage your body to prepare itself for quality sleep. The cooler temperature serves as a natural cue for your body to relax and the darkness eases the mind and stimulates the release of melatonin – which is known as the sleep hormone.

You can prevent loud sounds from disturbing your sleep by using quality earbuds. If natural or artificial light disturbs your sleep, opt for eye masks to sleep better at night.

sleeping positions for seniors
In co-sleeping arrangements, the bad sleep habits of your partner will have a direct effect on your sleep quality.

Let The Mind And Body Slow Down Close To Bedtime

Late-night stimulants such as spicy foods, TV, and mental stress can keep you from sleeping soundly at night. Instead, a little reading, relaxing music, and a cup of warm milk will help you sleep better.

Don’t engage in any activities that tire your body-mind system close to bedtime. Progressive muscle relaxation where you relax all the muscle groups of the body is a good practice closer to bedtime. It is known to help insomnia patients sleep better at night.

Use A Sleep Tracker to Monitor Your Sleep

If you just don’t feel rested when you wake but believe you are getting good sleep, try using a sleep tracker to record your sleep quality.

These handy little gadgets, usually built into a watch-style device, record movements, heart rate, breathing patterns and more when you sleep to determine how much sleep you are actually getting, how often you wake in the night, and what the overall quality of your sleep is. This data is usually sent to an app on your mobile device where you can see charts to find patterns.

If you’d like to begin monitoring your sleep, read my guide to the best sleep trackers for seniors and the elderly here

Reduce Your Stress Levels

Stress is another culprit that disrupts your sleep at night. Worry and stress are a result of an overactive mind. You should learn to relax the mind by practicing meditation or mindfulness. Meditation or mindfulness will help relax your mind and body and improve your sleep quality at night.

On the other hand, activities like an afternoon nature walk, bed yoga, exercise, and journaling can help reduce your stress levels and sleep better at night. If you find that your mind is most active just before bed, you can try meditating for at least 10-15 minutes to regulate your breath and clear your mind of unnecessary thoughts. It will prepare your mind and body for quality sleep at night.

The Right Diet Helps Sleep Better At Night

Your diet plays an important part in the quality of sleep you get at night. Stay away from heavy meals at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. When your evening meal is too heavy, your body may try to digest the food and disturb your sleep in the process. Meals high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats can also negatively affect your sleep patterns.

Steer clear of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine in the evenings to sleep better at night. Alcohol can wake you up once the body starts to process the substance while caffeine will keep you awake at night. Instead, try to have herbal tea or a glass of warm milk just before bedtime to improve your chances of quality sleep.

If you are a senior experiencing sleeping issues, there could be many reasons for your problem. The aforementioned article provides information on some of the most common underlying causes of sleep problems in seniors and important sleep tips for seniors and the elderly.

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