Seniors and Sleep

December 2, 2020

As we age, sleep plays a critical role in brain and body health, yet many seniors do not get enough good quality sleep. Seniors aged 65 and older should get 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but the CDC estimates that 1 in 3 Americans suffer from sleep deprivation. Although lack of sleep is undoubtedly a common struggle for many people, it’s regarded seriously in the medical community as possibly increasing an individual’s risk for health conditions such as diabetes, depression, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Negative changes in sleep patterns or health conditions can adversely impact a senior’s ability to get a good night’s rest. These include:

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea causes a person’s breathing to abnormally stop and start while sleeping. This creates disrupted sleep and can also be dangerous. Sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and an increased risk of a heart attack. Those with sleep apnea typically snore loudly, which can also be disruptive to their partner.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Also known as RLS, restless legs syndrome affects approximately 8% of the population. RLS is a neurological condition that causes a strong urge to move the legs, especially during periods of inactivity or while lying down. Those with RLS often suffer from periodic limb movements, a jerking of the arms and legs.

Circadian Rhythm Changes

We’re all born with a 24-hour internal clock that, among other things, controls our sleep-wake cycles. With age, that internal clock may begin to change and lose its consistency, causing seniors to wake up earlier in the morning and get tired earlier in the evening. Over time, this can leave them feeling increasingly sleep-deprived.

If your loved one is living with a health condition affecting their sleep habits, please consult their doctor. They should be able to develop a plan or prescribe medication to help improve your loved one’s quality of sleep.

The following lifestyle changes can also promote a good night’s rest:

Limit Napping

Taking too many naps, one long nap, or napping too late in the day may make nighttime sleeping difficult. Napping does have benefits, though, so experts suggest seniors limit naps to one or two 20-minute snoozes in the earlier parts of the day.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise has been shown to improve deep sleep. Getting regular exercise will provide the energy needed to get through the day and help your loved one wind down faster at night and sleep more deeply.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants that can lead to sleepless nights. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake during the day and avoid it entirely in the evening hours. Drinking fewer liquids at night will also decrease nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Stick to a Schedule

Encourage your loved one to set a regular bedtime and routine and stick to it. This will help them feel tired at the same time each day and help them fall asleep faster when they go to bed.

How can we help?