Why older adults struggle sleeping & ideas to improve sleep 💤
It’s common for older adults to experience changes in the quality and duration of their sleep. Many of these changes occur due to changes in the body’s internal clock. There are many reasons why older adults struggle getting a good night’s sleep.
Mental and physical health conditions may also interfere with sleep. Conditions that commonly affect sleep in older people include depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and conditions that cause discomfort and pain, such as arthritis. The relationship between physical health and sleep is complicated by the fact that many older adults are diagnosed with more than one health condition.
Sleep issues may also be related to the side effects of medications. Almost 40% of adults over the age of 65 take five or more medications.
Poor sleep quality in seniors can be related to the lifestyle changes that often come with aging. For example, retirement leads to less working outside of the home and possibly more napping and less of a structured sleep schedule. Other significant life changes, such as loss of independence and social isolation, can increase stress and anxiety, which can also contribute to sleep issues.
Why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep
A good night’s sleep helps improve concentration and memory formation, allows your body to repair any cell damage that occurred during the day, and refreshes your immune system, which in turn helps to prevent disease. Older adults who don’t sleep well are more likely to suffer from depression, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, and experience more nighttime falls. Insufficient sleep can also lead to serious health problems, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems, and breast cancer in women.
To improve your quality of sleep it’s important to understand the underlying causes of your sleep problems. Whatever the case, the good news is that being older doesn’t mean you have to be tired all the time. You can do many things to help you get a good night’s sleep. Here are some ideas:
How to develop good sleep habits
Regulate your sleep & do things that promote sleep
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day.
- Avoid naps during the day. If you do nap, keep it to 20 minutes.
- Avoid oversleeping.
- Avoid bright light in the evening, especially playing on your iPhone or iPad device.
- Seek out some bright light when you wake up each morning.
- Don’t stay in bed worrying. If you’re awake for more than 20 minutes — go to another room and do something that relaxes you, such as reading a book, listening to music or meditating.
- Be as active as possible during the day, exercise and spend some time outdoors.
- Don’t eat, work, watch television, read or discuss problems in bed.
- Avoid working on a computer, tablet or smartphone late in the evening.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks after midday
- Reduce your overall daily caffeine intake. i.e. Did you know that there are two shots of coffee in a regular size long black coffee?
- Avoid heavy meals and vigorous exercise within 3 hours of going to bed.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol in the evening.
- Keep your pets, the TV, and brightly lit digital clocks out of the bedroom.
- Relax for 30 minutes before going to bed (eg, have a warm bath).
- Make sure your bedroom is not too hot or cold.
- Ensure you are comfortable and your bedroom is quiet and as dark as possible.
- Drink less fluids at night. Trips to the bathroom break up your sleep.
Sleep myth: Do Older People Need Less Sleep? No. According to the National Institution on Aging, it is considered a myth that older adults require less sleep than younger individuals.
Safe Sleeping for Older Adults
As stated by the Sleep Foundation, insufficient sleep in older adults can lead to a higher risk of falls and accidents. As people age, it’s helpful to make changes to the bedroom environment that reduce the risk of accidents and makes it easier to call for help when needed.
Here are some steps to consider for a safer night’s sleep:
- Keep a telephone by the bed: It’s important to be able to call for help from bed. Put a phone on the nightstand and, even better, keep a list of important phone numbers nearby. Be careful about keeping a cell phone nearby particularly if it receives too many notifications during the night or if there’s too much temptation to look at the bright screen.
- Make sure a light is within reach: Having a light easily accessible reduces the need to stumble around in the dark when getting out of bed. This can reduce the risk of trips and falls when trying to find the light switch. Lights with motion sensors may be helpful in hallways or the bathroom.
- Reduce hazards in the bedroom: Never smoke in bed and be careful when placing objects in the bedroom that may become trip hazards, like rugs, cords, stools, and furniture.
If you’re always sleepy or you find it hard to get enough sleep at night, it may be time to see a doctor. Waking up every day feeling tired is a sign that you are not getting the rest you need.
There are also a large number of sleep clinics across Australia. To find out which clinics are in your area, contact your local branch of Sleep Disorders Australia.
While you’re hear, read our articles on tips for a better sleep:
- 14 tips to develop good sleeping habits
- Sleep experts debunk 10 sleep myths
- 15 ‘sleep hygiene’ tips to get you snoozing better
Play it safe with sleeping pills
Talk with your doctor or other health professional if you’re thinking about starting sleeping pills or they’ve been recommended to you by family or friends.
In the long term, sleeping tablets are unlikely to help your insomnia and, in some cases, may do more harm than good.
Read our article The increased risks of sleeping pills as we get older
– National Institute of Aging. A Good Night’s Sleep. Read article
– National Library of Medicine. Polypharmacy Among Adults Aged 65 Years and Older in the United States: 1988–2010. Published online 2015 Mar 1 Read article
– Stepnowsky, C. J., & Ancoli-Israel, S. (2008). Sleep and Its Disorders in Seniors. Sleep medicine clinics, 3(2), 281–293. Read article
– National Institute on Aging. (n.d). 10 myths about aging. Retrieved September 20, 2020. Read article
– Help Guide. Sleep Tips for Older Adults. Read article
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