Doctors agree that adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, though many older adults find it difficult to get their recommended shuteye. Research finds between 40% and 70% of seniors suffer from chronic sleep problems.
The cause of older adults’ sleep troubles is difficult to diagnose and may result from chronic pain or the side effects of medication. No matter the reason, insomnia can lead to lower energy throughout the day, memory problems, and even mental health struggles.
It’s not always easy to get our 7 to 9 hours, but the good news is that there are proactive steps any senior can take to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep. Take a look at our list below and see if you can improve on any of these habits.
Broadly referred to as sleep hygiene, the habits and rituals you practice immediately before bed can have a big impact on your sleep. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends. It can also include your pre-sleep habits like reading or watching television. By sticking to the same routine, you can gradually signal to your body that it’s time to rest.
Many medications list insomnia as a side effect. Cold medicines, medications for Parkinson’s, and antidepressants are some of the most common culprits. If you think one of your regular medications may be contributing to sleep loss, talk to your doctor about switching to an alternative.
If you’re taking a variety of medications at once and have a hard time staying on top of them, a Pill Organizer may be just the thing you need.
When, how much, and what type of food we eat play a bigger role in sleep than most people think. Food high in fat can raise your metabolism or upset your stomach, while an overdose of sugar can leave you feeling overstimulated right before bed. Experts advise avoiding eating two hours before bed to allow your body to slow its natural processes.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes, you can sleep better if you get out of bed when you’re having trouble sleeping. The idea is to train your brain to associate the bed with sleep, not with restless tossing and turning.
So, when you wake up in the middle of the night, take a look at the clock. If you’re not feeling tired after twenty minutes, get up and read, enjoy a light snack, or take a walk around the block. In an hour or two, your body will be ready for sleep once again.
Caffeine can impair anybody’s sleep, but its adverse side effects affect older adults more than anyone else. This includes elevated heart rate, faster breathing, and alertness, none of which are ideal when trying to get some rest. Since older adults drink more coffee than any other age group, these effects may impact them the hardest.
Sleep loss can be a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself over time. After a bad night of sleep, the most natural impose is to lay down for a quick nap once the body feels tired. While satisfying at the moment, it will make it more difficult to sleep through the next night.
If you think you might need to nap, it’s better to do it earlier in the day, so your body has a chance to get tired again. Try to limit your naps to ninety minutes or less.
If you wake up feeling sore after a full night of sleep, the problem may be your sleeping posture. Generally, sleeping on your back and stomach are the best ways to ensure you wake up without aches, though Support Pillows can help even more. What you want to avoid is sleeping on your stomach, which forces you to twist your neck as you sleep and may also cause lower back pain.
Just like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant that arouses your body and lends a sense of energy and alertness. While this can benefit when you’re trying to concentrate on a task, it can make it much more difficult to sleep. While it may be hard to quit, cutting the habit can make a huge impact on your hours of rest.
Most people know that getting less sleep often has the effect of making you more irritable. What you might not know is that the reverse is true as well. When we become stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol which has a variety of effects. One of these is reducing the quality of sleep. What is especially difficult about stress-related sleep problems is that they can create a vicious cycle that self-perpetuates.
Many people think of alcohol as a sleep aid, but this myth couldn’t be further from the truth. While alcohol may help you fall asleep in the short term, it doesn’t help you stay asleep and can worsen your quality of sleep. This can exacerbate insomnia for anyone, but seniors are especially vulnerable because they are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than other groups.
While staying hydrated is one of the best ways to promote overall body health, try to avoid drinking water too close to bedtime. This will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and it may be difficult to get back to sleep afterward. Instead, make sure you’re fully hydrated two hours before bed, and if needed, have a small drink of water before you go to sleep.
One of the leading causes of insomnia for seniors is chronic pain. No matter what the source, it can cause your brain to enter an aroused state and make it difficult to sleep for more than a few hours at a time.
Chronic pain can be caused by a variety of sources, some of which need to be managed by medication. However, if your pain is caused by achy joints, bones, or muscles, a Knee Pillow or Body Pillow may be a good way to improve sleep.
As we age, it can be more difficult to get in our daily dose of exercise. However, staying active is a great way to make sure your muscles are craving eight hours of rest. Even if it’s just a short walk, it can make a big difference. You can also invest in some Resistance Bands, a Pedal Exerciser, or a Home Rowing Machine to diversify your workout even more. Just make sure to stay active throughout the day and avoid physical exertion in the hours leading up to sleep.
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour cycle that tells it when it’s time to sleep and when to be active. It’s something we all have, though it’s stronger in some people than in others. One way to reinforce your circadian rhythm is to make sure you get exposed to sunlight daily. Vitamin D is one of the best natural sleep aids for elderly. The light/dark cycles of the sun will make you more alert during the day and sleepier at night.
While sunlight can help your body know when to rest, doctors now believe that other kinds of light can actually harm your sleep. Blue light, such as the kind that comes from phones, computers, and other electronic devices, can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Since our eyes are not good at blocking blue light, it can pass to the back of your retina and blocks the hormones that help us sleep.
To make sure you sleep soundly, you must make your bedroom the perfect environment for rest. Make sure it’s dark, free of extraneous noise, and at the right temperature. The ideal temperature for sleep is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, though this can vary from person to person.
By now, it should be clear that many factors affect sleep. However, in addition to the cases mentioned above, more serious underlying health issues may affect your sleep. Chronic conditions like diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s can have a negative impact on sleep.
One other issue is sleep apnea, which is one of the most common sleep disorders and is characterized by poor breathing while asleep. If you think you may have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. They may be able to recommend a CPAP machine, which can be used in conjunction with a CPAP pillow.
Bedsores and ulcers are some of the most common ailments that interfere with older adults’ sleep. If this sounds like you, try an Alternating Pressure Mattress to relieve the pain.
At the end of the day, nobody’s perfect and we can’t be expected to follow all of these tips to the letter. However, by choosing one or two to work on at a time, you can gradually learn to practice healthy habits that will improve sleep. As you pay closer attention to your sleep habits, it will become easier to discover the root cause of your sleep issues.