Sleep tips for seniors

Sleep tips for seniors

Did you know that older people do not get the same quality deep sleep as younger adults? Sleep patterns and the “deep sleep” associated with active dreaming and REM (rapid eye movement) tends to be lighter and less intense in seniors, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In fact, the sleep pattern associated with normal rhythm tends to be more prolonged and interrupted in seniors, making a restful night often difficult to obtain.

But sleep is a critical part of staying healthy. Insufficient sleep has been liked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression, among other conditions, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What causes older adults to lose sleep?
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that some variations in sleep patterns are a result of normal aging patterns. For example, our bladder capacity decreases as we get older. Waking up in the middle of the night for frequent bathroom trips disturbs our sleep. And getting back to sleep is not easy. Also, getting up quickly in the middle of the night in a dark room can lead to falls and injuries.

Other variations are related to deeper issues besides the aging process. According to the NSF, some of the most common issues, include:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Medications and illnesses, particularly diabetes, obesity and acid reflux
  • Environmental changes, like sleeping in a hospital room versus at home
  • Emotional stress or depression
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Obstructive sleep apnea, which is often associated with high blood pressure and obesity

It’s often difficult to determine whether these issues contribute to or cause other health conditions. But they can prevent our sleep from restoring our energy and function they way it should.

Tips for better sleep
Sleep hygiene is the term used to promote restorative sleep by identifying patterns of rest. That means getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to the CDC. Healthy sleep patterns are easier in the home rather than in other environments.

In my experience, here are methods that have been found to work almost anywhere:

  • Try having a consistent bed time each night based on your normal routine.
  • Take medications earlier in the evening, especially diuretics or “water” pills. This can decrease bathroom trips in the middle of the night.
  • Make sure the bed is comfortable and the room environment is not too hot or cold.
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day by increasing activity.
  • Let the sun light in during the day! This not only promotes wakefulness but may improve moods.
  • Decrease liquid intake a few hours before bed, especially caffeine and alcohol.

When to seek help
There are a variety of tools to assess sleep quality. Seek medical assistance if you find yourself nodding off excessively during the day or during normal activities, such as during conversations or while reading, watching television or sitting quietly in a theater or public place. Otherwise, medication adjustment, hydration or an exercise routine may be all that is needed to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Learn more about Advocate’s services for sleep disorders.

Sue Durkin is an Advanced Practice Nurse and Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist for Geriatrics at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

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  1. Enjoying some sun would also help in relieving depression, heart disease and other ailments and regaining and maintaining good health. Going outdoors for some time would also help in regulating melatonin, another hormone, which affects your sleep cycle.

About the Author

Sue Durkin
Sue Durkin

Sue Durkin, MSN, CCRN, CCNS, is an Advanced Practice Nurse and Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist for Geriatrics at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. Her experience includes more than 35 years in nursing in critical care, eduction, research and care for patients of all age groups. She received her master's degree in nursing from Northern Illinois University and baccalaureate in nursing from the University of Illinois. Sue is a member of the clinical team at Good Samaritan Hospital's Memory Assessment Center for cognitive disorders.