October 16, 2023
Getting enough sleep as an older adult can help you enjoy good health and a vibrant lifestyle. However, it isn't always that simple. If you find yourself dreading bedtime or regularly feeling exhausted during the day, there are things you can do to take control of your sleep schedule. Below, we'll explain the causes and symptoms of insomnia in seniors and reveal simple tips for better sleep.
Sleep issues are common as we age, but they don't have to be inevitable. Understanding how much sleep you need and knowing the signs of sleep deprivation can help you identify issues in your sleep habits.
As an older adult, you need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night — roughly the same amount you've needed throughout adulthood. However, several factors can impact how much sleep you require. For example, you may need more sleep than average if you lead a particularly active lifestyle.
Insomnia makes falling and staying asleep harder and commonly affects adults over 60. If you have insomnia, you may take a long time to nod off at night and keep waking up after falling asleep.
The reasons for insomnia in older adults vary from person to person. If you have a chronic health condition, pain could make it harder to fall asleep and wake you at night. Certain medications can also impact the quality and duration of your sleep.
Sleep apnea is common in older adults and causes you to stop breathing for short periods while you sleep. Over time, these pauses can interrupt your sleep and make you feel tired during the day.
If you have Alzheimer's or another type of dementia, you may experience problems falling or staying asleep. These conditions can impact your body clock and cause frequent wakings or wandering at night. Living with someone with dementia-related sleep problems can also disturb your own sleep patterns and make insomnia more likely.
Other health conditions, such as restless legs syndrome, can also impact your sleep. This condition causes uncomfortable sensations in your legs that typically worsen at night.
You may notice changes in your cognitive abilities and physical coordination if you don't get enough sleep as an older adult. Common symptoms of sleep deprivation in seniors include:
Long-term sleep deprivation can increase your risk of developing other health conditions, such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. It's also important to rule out an underlying cause of your insomnia, such as sleep apnea. Your healthcare provider can recommend treatment to help you find relief.
If you regularly struggle to fall or stay asleep, you may have heard medical professionals referring to good "sleep hygiene." Sleep hygiene means establishing healthy habits to help you improve your sleep duration and quality. The following tips may help you fall asleep faster and enjoy better sleep as an older adult.
Inconsistent sleeping habits can confuse your body's sleep-wake cycle. While it can be tempting to sleep in after a bad night's sleep, going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning helps your body adapt to healthy sleeping patterns. It may also improve the quality of your sleep over time.
Handheld devices are a great way to stay connected with family and friends, but using them too close to bedtime could impact your sleep. Smartphone and tablet screens emit blue light, and exposure to blue light before sleep could interrupt your body's circadian rhythms by reducing melatonin production. Melatonin helps control your sleeping patterns, and not producing enough could make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Engaging with online content can also make your mind more active, which isn't ideal when trying to wind down for the evening. Coming across upsetting or frightening content can also trigger emotions that make it harder to relax.
As a rule of thumb, avoid using screens — including TV screens — for 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. Consider swapping screen time for other relaxing activities like reading or crafting.
Exercising during the day can help improve the quality and duration of your sleep. It can also balance your mood, reducing the risk of anxiety or racing thoughts keeping you awake at night. Any moderate physical activity that elevates your heart rate can be beneficial. However, strenuous exercise close to bedtime could make falling asleep more challenging. If you enjoy exercising in the evening, consider sticking to gentle, low-impact options like yoga.
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