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Tips for Helping Seniors Improve Their Sleep

How to help seniors sleep better during the night

A restful night of sleep
A good night of restul sleep is essential to one's physical and psychological health,
especially for senior adults over the age of 65, who need plenty of good sleep.

Why Seniors Have Sleep Troubles

Many of us have trouble sleeping, but older adults have an even harder time getting sufficient sleep. Adults over 65 need seven to eight hours of sleep every night, yet many report difficulties falling asleep. Furthermore, the sleep they do get in those hours is not as deep and is more frequently interrupted. But why exactly do seniors have these sleep troubles?

As we age, the circadian rhythm of gene activity in the brain changes. This changes a senior’s daily behaviors and activity patterns, including sleep. This is also why it is easier for seniors to perform complex cognitive tasks in the morning but more difficult as the day goes on. Melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleepiness in the body. As we grow older, the smaller the amount of nightly melatonin production, the harder it is to fall asleep. Aging also makes people more sensitive to outside stimuli, including light, noise, pain, and other external factors that influence sleep. Seniors are also more susceptible to nocturia.

Sleep Deprivation Problem

Sleep deprivation can lead to serious physical and mental health problems down the line for seniors. It exacerbates the symptoms of any chronic medical conditions they may have. Not getting enough sleep can also lead to confusion, distortion of memory, depression, and decreased cognitive capacity. Over time, the sleep-deprived senior can’t react appropriately to stress—a sign of developing mental illness. There may also be a connection between sleep, blood pressure, and heart health. Furthermore, a lack of sleep weakens the immune system, making seniors more susceptible to infection and disease.

Woman taking a nap outdoors
Taking a quick nap in the afternoon can also be helpful to provide a brief rest
and give a good boost of energy for the rest of the day.

Tips to Help Seniors Sleep Better

Seniors that are having serious troubles sleeping should talk to their doctors. They may be able to help with appropriate medication or medical devices like continuous positive airway pressure therapy, or CPAP, machines or masks that help those suffering from sleep apnea. Along with a doctor’s advice, use the following tips to help your senior loved one prepare themselves for a restful night’s sleep:

• A healthy lifestyle during the day means better sleep at night. Seniors should exercise daily and avoid bad habits like smoking. Not only does smoking cause numerous preventable diseases, it is also a stimulant that keeps a person up at night.

• Seniors should avoid caffeine after noon or cut it out altogether. They can try decaf versions of favorite brands or simply switch to water to save money while hydrating.

• Discourage seniors from drinking too many fluids late in the evening to prevent nocturia. Seniors should also avoid drinking alcohol throughout the evening. While it makes a person sleepy at first, it suppresses melatonin and makes it easier to be startled awake.

• In the bedroom, create a cozy environment that encourages sleep. Hang blackout curtains, lower the temperature, remove televisions or other unnecessary electronics, and invest in a quality mattress and linens that help seniors feel comfortable at night.

• Seniors with problems like respiratory issues, itchy allergies, sore throats, and dry skin will also benefit from a humidifier in the bedroom. Not only does it make the air more comfortable, it also provides ambient white noise that encourages deep sleep.

• Data from a 2012 meta-analysis shows that over-the-counter melatonin supplements provide a measure of sleep for older individuals dealing with insomnia.

****

Seniors need as much sleep as their younger counterparts—maybe more. However, it turns out that as we age, it becomes more difficult to get the sleep we need. Our circadian rhythms change, melatonin production weakens, and our bodies become more susceptible to outside stimuli. Without enough sleep, older adults are at risk for cognitive issues, a weakened immune system, depression, confusion, and more. A doctor can help with major sleep issues including insomnia and sleep apnea. To help your senior loved one get enough sleep, encourage them to lead a healthy and active lifestyle while avoiding caffeine and other stimulants. The bedroom should be a cool and dark sanctuary for sleep, and try adding accessories like a humidifier to make it more comfortable.

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