Healthy Sleep Habits for Seniors

As people get older, their sleep habits and needs change. It’s common for older adults to sleep less deeply and wake up more often during the night. This may be due to poor sleep habits, sleep disorders, or other medical issues. Whatever the case may be, it’s a good idea for seniors to adopt healthy sleep routines and avoid behaviours that may negatively impact sleep. If you or a loved one is having problems getting restful sleep, some of these tips may be beneficial. These aren’t just exclusive to seniors; if you’re a caregiver suffering from decreased sleep quality, these tips may benefit you as well.

When getting a good night’s sleep, it’s important to have your bedroom set up in a way that promotes healthy rest:

  • Make sure you invest in good quality mattresses and pillows at your preferred firmness. A comfortable bed is crucial when trying to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Ensure your room is dark and cool. Lowering the thermostat is a good idea; it’s easier for the body to fall asleep if the room is cooler. Having the thermostat between 15-19 °C (60-67 °F) is the ideal bedroom temperature.
  • Avoid backlit electronic devices in the bedroom. The light from the devices can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle and make it more difficult to fall asleep. It may be a good idea to keep electronics outside of the bedroom.
  • Block out sounds. Some people have to deal with sounds that prevent sleep. These can include snoring, dogs barking, or people talking. It may be useful to invest in something to drown those sounds out like earplugs, a white noise machine, a fan, or an air purifier.

There are a number of things you can do before bed to make it easier to fall asleep, and ensure your sleep quality is deep and restful:

  • Keeping a regular routine has been shown to make falling asleep easier. Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same times as often as possible. This helps to program your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Having irregular sleep and wake times can make it difficult for your body to adapt.
  • Regular exercise is a great way to improve your sleep quality and duration. Exercise also helps reduce stress and tire you out. Exercising right before bed may overstimulate your body too much, so if this is the case try doing it earlier in the day.
  • Going to bed earlier may make it easier to fall asleep, depending on your schedule. Experts like Dr. Allison Siebern from Stanford University say that a bedtime between 8 PM and 12 AM is best. This window is ideal for fitting in all the REM and non-REM sleep that your body needs.
  • Taking a warm bath before bed can have a positive impact. The warmth will help you relax, and then once your body temperature drops after you get out, it will make it easier to fall asleep.

Many common behaviours can negatively affect sleep, and it’s important to be aware of these so that they can be avoided:

  • Avoid taking naps during the day. Naps can throw off your body’s sleep-wake cycle and make it difficult to fall asleep at night. If naps are an absolute necessity, try to make them short and take them earlier in the afternoon.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime, as they have been shown to negatively impact sleep quality and make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
  • Don’t stay inside all day. Staying in darkness all day can throw off your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to sunlight helps regulate the production of melatonin, the hormone which makes you feel tired when it gets dark.
  • Try not to use sleep medication unless it’s a last resort. Using sleep medication has risks and can form habits. This can negatively impact sleep in the long run.

Getting restful sleep is extremely important for older adults, as sleep deprivation and insomnia have links to increased risk of dementia. Seniors should follow the tips outlined in this post to ensure they have the best chance at achieving the deep, restful sleep that they need. If these tips don’t provide relief, there may be an underlying medical condition preventing healthy rest. If this is the case for you, it’s important to talk to your doctor and figure out the cause.

There are various common conditions which cause sleep problems for seniors. These can include medical issues like heart, lung, gastrointestinal or urinary problems. Breathing disorders like sleep apnea disrupt normal sleep and lead to tiredness, and are extremely dangerous if left untreated.  Insomnia is also very common among seniors but can be effectively treated with methods like cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness meditation, or simple exercise. Other issues like side effects from medication, restless leg syndrome, and chronic pain can commonly affect sleep as well. For those that deal with these issues, the support of a medical professional is recommended.

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