How Elderly Adults Can Sleep Better

May 5, 2016

How Elderly Adults Can Sleep Better

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As you get older, your sleeping habits change. You may want to go to sleep earlier or wake up earlier. These are normal changes that come with aging, however, if you have disturbed sleep or wake up tired every day, that is not a normal part of the aging process.

Regardless of your age, sleeping is critical to your physical and emotional well-being. A good night of sleep helps older adults concentrate during the day, and allows your body to repair cell damage that has occurred. A good night of sleep helps refresh your immune system, keeping you heathier.

Older adults who do not sleep well are more likely to suffer from depression, have trouble paying attention, memory issues, and daytime sleepiness. Seniors that don’t sleep well are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems and some kinds of cancers.

What Causes Sleep Problems When You're Older?

  • Illness and conditions - Various medical conditions can keep you up at night. Some of these include arthritis and restless leg syndrome. Treating these conditions may help you get a better night sleep.
  • Lack of exercise - If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you may never feel sleepy, or you may feel sleepy all of the time. Exercising during the day, but not within 3 hours of bedtime, can help you sleep better at night.
  • Medications - Certain medications may keep you up at night due to containing caffeine or other components that affect your sleep. Make sure your doctor is aware of all the medications you take. If you believe one of your meds is keeping you up at night, talk to your doctor about finding a new solution, or medication that won’t keep you up.
  • Life changes - As you get older, you’ll go through many stressful life changes, which could include illness, the death of a loved one, or financial issues.  Stress can make it hard to fall asleep. Talk to your family or doctor to find out how to manage your stress for a better night of sleep.
  • Retirement - When you retire, you may find yourself less active during the day and have a lot more free time. This may throw off your sleep schedule. During the day try to keep your mind and body active to help you sleep better at night.

How Many Hours of Sleep is a Good Night's Sleep?

The average healthy adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep, but you don't want to get too much sleep. But how you feel after a night of sleep is more important than the number of hours you slept. If you wake up frequently through the night or feel excessively tired during the day, you may have a sleep problem even if you’re getting 8 hours.

As you get older, wanting to go to bed earlier or wake up earlier is normal and may happen as your circadian rhythm (your internal clock that tells your body when to sleep and wake) changes.

How Seniors can Sleep Better

  • Exercise regularly – Staying active during the day can help you sleep better at night.
  • Limit caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol – All three of these will interfere with your quality of sleep
  • Choose the right foods – Certain foods help you sleep while others will harm your sleep. Read our guide to a better night of sleep so you choose the right foods to eat.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark – You should only use your bedroom to sleep. If you don’t watch TV, use your computer, or work in bed, your body will learn to associate your bedroom with sleep, making it easier to go to sleep.
  • No backlit devices—Your iPad might be your favorite electronic gadget, but you shouldn't read from it when you are getting ready to go to bed. To read before bed, use an e-reader that is not backlit, or a soft bedside lamp.
  • Develop bedtime rituals—Consider relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to help you wind down before bed. A ritual like a warm bath, or music will help relax your body and you mind in preparation for bed.
  • Minimize your liquid intake before bed—Drinking water is essential to keeping your body hydrated, but you should limit your liquid intake in the hour and a half before bed to avoid waking up for late night bathroom trips.
  • Reduce mental stress—Stress and anxiety can keep you at night so if you find that you do most of your worrying when you should be sleeping, consider keeping a journal to write your worries, or making a to-do list to help you get through everything you need to do for the day.

If you find that you are not able to get a good night’s sleep even after eliminating working in the bedroom, keeping a steady routine, and watching what you eat, you may want to see your doctor. Your sleep issues may stem from a sleep disorder, medications, medical conditions or pain. Your doctor will record your symptoms and determine if you need to see a sleep specialist to get the 40 winks you deserve.

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Frequently Asked Questions

I just turned 63 and I can’t seem to fall asleep or stay asleep as well as I used to. Do you have any recommendations for what I can do to treat this that doesn't involve medication?

Sleep disorders are a common problem in elderly adults. To help combat this issue, most doctors will recommend a number of treatments. Here are a few: avoid large meals before bedtime, avoid stimulants starting mid-afternoon, do not take naps, patriciate in regular exercise, have a consistent bedtime schedule, and avoid using the bed for things other than sleep and sexual activity. 

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Our grandmother’s assisted living home recently told us that she is waking at night and having intense night terrors. What is the cause of this?

Oh my! It’s possible she might be suffering from a REM sleep disorder, something that causes people to act out their dreams. Although this is very rare, such sleep disorders may also cause intense and terrifying experiences at night. In some cases, people can become violent, kicking and flailing in their surroundings. It’s best to consult a professional before making any changes, but there are some medications that can be useful!

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