Healthy Sleep Habits for Seniors Having Trouble Sleeping
How did you sleep last night? If you’re over 65, chances are your answer might be, “Not so well.” It’s not unusual for older adults to complain about how the quality and duration of their sleep isn’t what it used to be.
While you may have heard that older adults don’t require as much sleep as they once did, the National Sleep Foundation advises that healthy sleep habits for people over 65 include getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
This article explains how sleep patterns are disrupted and change as we age, and offers guidance about how to improve your nightly rest.
Why Restorative Sleep Is Difficult as We Age
Many factors contribute to a good night’s sleep––and many more factors can impact whether you get the restorative sleep needed to face the day alert and energized. Here are a few of the top reasons older adults tend to have trouble with achieving a good night’s sleep:
- Circadian rhythm disruption. A master clock in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, composed of about 20,000 cells that form the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), controls 24-hour daily cycles called circadian rhythms (when you get hungry, feel sleepy, etc.). Deterioration in the function of the SCN can disrupt circadian rhythms, and that has a direct influence on when you feel tired or alert.
- Lack of good sleep hormones. Changes in production of hormones, such as melatonin and cortisol, may also play a role in disrupted sleep in older adults. As people age, the body secretes less melatonin, which is normally produced in response to darkness that helps promote sleep by coordinating circadian rhythms.
- Depression and anxiety issues. At any age, stress and negative thoughts can keep you from falling asleep and staying asleep. When you combine stress with any of the age-related reasons for sleep disturbance, the tendency for insomnia is increased.
- Physical pain issues. Pain is very disruptive to a good night’s sleep. If you’re uncomfortable simply lying in bed, or you experience pain every time you turn over, that’s a real problem for restorative sleep.
- Daytime napping. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the best nap lengths for adults are 20 or 90 minutes. If you have a tendency to sleep longer, you may face more difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep when bedtime rolls around. Take your nap early in the afternoon and be sure to set an alarm so you don’t overdo it.
- Sleep/wake cycles that change as we age. The decrease in sleep hormones can also change our sleep habits. You may want to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. Or you may experience a decrease in slow wave or deep sleep (an especially refreshing part of the sleep cycle).
- Underlying medical problems. These may be heart and lung conditions, which affect breathing, gastroesophageal reflux disease, which causes heartburn symptoms; urinary problems that cause urination at night; neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; medication side effects, sleep apnea, or other medical problems.
- Poor eating and drinking habits. Take care to:
- Limit caffeine late in the day
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime
- Have a small, light snack to satisfy your hunger before going to bed
- Cut down on sugary foods and sweets
- Avoid big meals or spicy foods just before bedtime
- Minimize liquid intake before sleep
Tips for Improving Your Sleep
Older adults can actually improve their sleep by focusing on healthier habits and creating a healthier sleep environment. Try some of these tips and see what works best for you. If you continue to have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, it’s always best to speak with your doctor.
- Create a better bedroom experience. Ensure it’s quiet, cool, and dark. Ditch your brightly lit digital clock and cover lights on electronics. Keep the temperature at 68 degrees and use layers of blankets instead. Also maintain a regular bedtime, even on weekends.
- Avoid using backlit devices before bed. That includes computers, tablets, and cell phones. The blue light can disrupt your sleep later on.
- Block out disruptive noises.Sleep with a snorer or have an apartment near the elevator? Wear earplugs or use a white noise machine.
- Create relaxing bedtime rituals. Take a warm (not hot) bath, play soothing music, or meditate. You can also practice deep breathing and/or progressive muscle relaxation to help calm your mind and body.
- Go natural with supplements instead of sleeping pills.Natural melatonin is known to help you relax and encourage restful sleep, while sleeping pills have side effects and really aren’t meant for long-term use. Talk to your doctor before trying any supplements to make sure they won’t interfere with other medications you take.
When to See a Doctor About Sleep
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to ensure a restful and rejuvenating sleep, you may need the help of a physician. Before you see a doctor, try to keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. Write down what you eat and drink each day, what time you try to go to bed, and how you slept. Also note stressors, medications, and any lifestyle changes. This will help your doctor determine what steps to take and what types of therapy might be indicated.
Your Well-Being Is Our Primary Focus at Crestwood Manor
When you’re lucky enough to live in a senior living community like Crestwood Manor, you have many options for living a healthier lifestyle. Our LivWell wellness programs focus on enhancing your well-being day and night, and that includes helping you sleep better.
Contact us to learn more about life at Crestwood Manor and why it could be just what you’re looking for in a senior living community. We’d love to show you around!