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MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Sleep tips for seniors

Sleeping well is as important in later life as it is when we are younger. Explore tips on improving your sleep quality.

March 21, 2024

Elderly woman not able to sleep at night

Having trouble sleeping can happen at any time in our lives, but as we age, changes in our sleeping patterns, such as feeling sleepy earlier, not getting into a deep sleep, and waking up earlier, are quite natural. However, insomnia, including symptoms of disturbed sleep and waking up tired and grumpy, is not a normal part of ageing. 

Sleeping well is as important in old age as it is when we are younger for our physical and mental health. Poor sleeping habits can even negatively impact existing medical conditions in the elderly. Older adults who don't get enough sleep are at an increased risk of anxiety, depression, concentration issues, and an increase in dizziness, which could result in falls

In this blog, we look at how much sleep older adults need every night and the consequences of lack of sleep. We also offer tips on improving sleep quality in the elderly. 

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Amount of sleep the elderly need every night

Sleep requirements can vary from person to person, but on average, a healthy adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep. However, if you are waking up tired every morning or not feeling rested enough, these are indications that you are sleep-deprived. 


Why does ageing affect sleep patterns in the elderly

There are several reasons why older adults may experience changes in the duration and quality of their sleep. If your sleep concerns become serious, it is important to consult your GP.

Elderly woman lying awake in bed


Decrease in production of sleep hormones

As we age, the body produces less growth hormone, which can decrease deep sleep - the restorative part of the sleep cycle. Due to this, the body produces less melatonin, causing us to have broken sleep and wake up frequently during the night.

Shift in circadian rhythms

Another reason for disruptions in sleep patterns is the body undergoing changes in the internal clock, which is located in a part of the brain made up of around 20,000 cells responsible for forming the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN controls 24-hour daily cycles, known as circadian rhythms. These rhythms impact our appetite, hormone release, and sleep levels throughout the day. 

Other medical conditions

Due to ageing, older adults are likely to develop chronic health conditions that might cause body changes that can interfere with sleep. Conditions like arthritis may worsen when temperatures are low, leading to increased joint pain that can disrupt sleep. Older adults with diabetes may have to get up several times in the night to use the toilet, which interrupts deep sleep. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease and mental illnesses may cause stress that hinders sleep.

Use of medications

Elderly woman taking medicines before bed


Medications, such as those for high blood pressure, depression or asthma taken by older adults can affect the quality of their sleep or cause daytime drowsiness. However, your GP may be able to adjust the medications to help with sleep disruptions.

Lifestyle factors

Changes in lifestyle, such as retirement, losing a loved one, lack of exercise and social interaction, and stress can impact sleep patterns. Consumption of caffeine or alcohol can also lead to sleep disruptions. 

Recognising the signs of loneliness

If you or a loved one is affected by loneliness, our Staying Connected guide will help you understand the symptoms and address the causes. The guide provides information, resources and advice to help you overcome loneliness, build meaningful connections and be your best in later life.

Download free guide

 

Consequences of lack of sleep in elderly

Research from Age UK shows that lack of sleep has mental and physical effects on the health of the elderly. Losing out on sleep can start causing cognitive decline, affecting memory, concentration, and decision-making abilities. Older adults who consistently lack sleep may develop cognitive decline and have a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Inadequate sleep at night can also cause drowsiness during the day, resulting in an increased risk of accidents, including falls, as it affects balance and coordination in older adults. Also, frequently getting up in the dark at nighttime for bathroom visits makes older adults prone to accidents. 

 

Tips to improve sleep in elderly

Simple lifestyle and home environment modifications can help resolve most sleep issues in the elderly without consulting a GP. However, because everyone is different, you might need to test different tips to find the best solutions to improve your sleep.

Improve your sleep environment

Artificial light from televisions, smartphones, tablets, and other devices can make sleeping difficult, resulting in a decrease in the hormone melatonin, which is responsible for making you sleepy. If you like to read on smart devices before bedtime, avoid reading from a backlit tablet or smart device. Instead, use an e-reader, which requires an additional source of light. Feeling warm during the night could also cause fragmented sleep. Keeping your room dark and cool can be helpful - you can try using cooling blankets during the summer. 

Keep a consistent bedtime

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, as maintaining a routine would be helpful in supporting your body's natural sleep cycles. Before bedtime, it's a good idea to find soothing activities, like taking a warm bath to relax and de-stress. You can also start practising calming mindfulness techniques to help you sleep effectively. These techniques can also be helpful in managing everyday stresses and emotions. 

Avoid napping or learn the best way to nap

Elderly man napping in the day


Avoid napping during the daytime or keep them to a minimum, as if you sleep too much during the day, you might feel too alert at night and find it difficult to settle down. If you are feeling really tired during the day, you can experiment in the early afternoon by taking a nap for anything between 15-45 minutes.
  

Improve your diet to improve your sleep

It is important for the elderly to consume a well-balanced, nutrient-rich and sleep-friendly diet. Making a few changes in your diet can also help improve your sleep quality. If you are a coffee person, avoid drinking it late in the day. It is advised to avoid any caffeine-containing drinks, like tea, soda, and chocolate, before bedtime. You should also avoid going hungry to bed and try to have a light, low-sugar snack or warm milk. Have dinner at least two hours before bedtime, so you have enough time for the food to digest before you lie down for the evening.  

You might feel that alcohol could help you feel sleepy at night, but its effect is completely opposite - having alcohol before going to bed is known to disrupt sleep patterns. When the effects of alcohol wear off in the night, it may wake you up in the middle of the night, making you feel dehydrated and confused.

Exercise regularly

Try to do something active during the day, preferably outdoors. This could be a walk around the local area or even some time spent in the garden doing gentle exercises (like gardening). If you find it challenging to move around because of a health condition or aches, you may try doing gentle exercises at home that benefit both physical and mental health. 

Make sure your mattress is comfortable

Even after following the above tips, if you still find it hard to get to sleep, it's probably time to check your bed and mattress. It's important to find the right mattress, pillows, and toppers for comfortable sleep. The National Bed Federation advises upgrading your mattresses every seven years. March marks National Bed Month, a welcome reminder about how important your bedding is for a comfortable sleep. It's the perfect time to replace your old mattress with a new one, as many retailers host special exhibitions or promotions. 

If you are not able to get respite even after following these tips and your medical conditions or medications are responsible for interrupting your sleep, it is important that you speak to a doctor about your concerns. Your doctor may prescribe different medications or suggest various tips that you can try to address your sleep concerns.

 

Additional peace of mind for those frequently waking up at night in the dark

If you regularly wake up at night feeling confused or disorientated, it might be a worry that you might hurt yourself or have an accident like a fall. 

You might also worry about the side effects of sleep disruptions, such as feeling dizzy or tired during the day. This could mean you may not feel completely aware of your environment or struggle with balance issues because of poor sleep quality. Speaking to a loved one or health professional to find the best solution for you is a good idea. 

One solution to providing peace of mind for you and your loved one is to consider a personal alarm. An emergency button or pendant alarm is beneficial if you have an emergency during the night or day or want reassurance that help is available at any time. 

Personal alarms

Take a look at our full range of products to find the best personal alarm for your situation.

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Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure


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