Simple Sleep Strategies for Seniors

March 25, 2023 / Senior Living Community
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Senior woman with short gray hair waking up in bed refreshed and smiling in the morning. Discover simple sleep strategies for seniors.

Sleep is essential for your body to repair and restore itself. Research shows that most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, as many as one in three people fall short of this requirement, especially as they age.

How Aging Impacts Sleep

As you age, sleep becomes more shallow, and you cycle through the different stages of sleep differently. Aging adults also tend to have more sleep disruptions, making achieving a good night's sleep difficult. 

This lack of quality sleep can have long-lasting consequences. Chronic sleep deprivation can accelerate aging, negatively affect immune cells, and lead to inflammatory disorders and heart disease. 

However, staying healthy does not necessarily require sleeping through the night without waking up. Humans wake up multiple times every hour, and that number increases as you age. Waking up once or twice at night doesn't mean your sleep is ruined. If you feel like you're not getting enough sleep at night, keep reading. These senior sleep tips could be the secret to getting more quality zzzs.

Keep Consistent Sleep Patterns

Did you know that your nighttime routine can greatly impact the quality of your sleep? According to sleep experts, one of the most important things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene is to establish regular bedtimes and wake times - and stick to them, even on weekends.

Dr. Jing Wang, an associate professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, explains that good sleep hygiene is more than a consistent sleep schedule. It also involves creating a relaxing environment in your bedroom conducive to sleep. This means keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet and reserving it for sleep only. (Don't turn your bed into a work-from-home office or the designated place for organizing 50 years' worth of photos.)

To create the ideal sleep environment, Dr. Wang recommends lowering your thermostat slightly, closing your blinds, and removing any distractions that might interfere with your ability to fall asleep. 

And while many of us love snuggling up with our furry friends, research suggests that having pets in bed can actually disrupt our sleep. So if you're having trouble getting a good night's sleep, it might be time to rethink those bedtime cuddles with your furry friends.

Get Regular Exercise

There is a strong relationship between sleep and physical activity. Whether it's a leisurely walk around the block or an intense workout at the gym, both sleep and physical activity play crucial roles in each other's success. 

As neurologist and sleep expert Chris Winter says, "Exercise is the one thing that truly improves sleep quality and quantity." If you're looking for a way to improve your sleep, consider adding more physical activity to your daily routine.

Banish Blue Light from the Bedroom

Do you ever find yourself scrolling through social media or watching TV in bed, only to have trouble falling asleep? You're not alone. The blue light emitted from electronic devices like phones and TVs can disrupt your body's natural production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. 

To combat this, sleep experts recommend turning off all tech at least an hour before bedtime, ideally two to three hours. This will help your body wind down and prepare for restful sleep. So, instead of scrolling through your phone, try reading a book or taking a warm bath before bedtime to help improve the quality of your sleep.

Reduce Night Time Bathroom Breaks

Nocturia, or the need to wake up and use the bathroom during the night, is a common issue for older adults. 

According to research, more than half of adults aged 50 to 79 years old make two or more trips to the bathroom per night. This issue is often caused by age-related changes in the urinary system, hormonal changes, or underlying health conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, or obesity.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce the frequency of these nighttime trips to the bathroom. 

One solution is to reduce fluid intake in the mid to late evening, especially when it comes to caffeinated beverages and alcohol, which act as diuretics. Doing pelvic floor exercises may also help strengthen the muscles that control urination. 

By making a few simple changes, you may be able to improve your sleep quality and reduce the disruptions caused by nocturia.

Take a Bedroom Break

We've all been there - lying in bed, tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. It's frustrating, to say the least. 

According to sleep expert Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson, nighttime wakenings are often followed by a period of unavoidable wakefulness, and the best thing to do is get out of bed and do something else to pass the time until the mind and body are ready to try again.

But don't reach for your phone! Remember that the blue light emitted from electronic devices can stimulate the brain and suppress the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. 

Instead, opt for something that isn't stimulating, like knitting, drawing, or reading. If you must use your phone or computer, consider investing in a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses with orange or red lenses. Research suggests blue-light-blocking glasses can block virtually all the light that impacts circadian rhythms and sleep. Grandner suggests keeping a pair handy for those middle-of-the-night wakings.

Should You Nap During the Day?

Taking a nap during the day can actually be good for you! Studies show that it can improve overall well-being in a number of ways. But like any snack, it's all about moderation. The key to a successful nap is to keep it short, ideally between 20 to 30 minutes. Anything longer than that can interfere with your nighttime sleep.

Dr. Grandner puts it best, "Naps are like sleep snacks. A light snack in the middle of the day can be great for health and give an energy boost. But constant, excessive snacking might be a sign of a problematic diet. It's the same with naps. Planned naps in the middle of the day can be very helpful. But unplanned naps due to sleep deprivation may not solve the problem of poor nighttime sleep." 

So go ahead and treat yourself to a quick nap, but don't overdo it!

Should You Take Melatonin for Sleep?

While melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body that helps promote sleep. 

"Your body produces melatonin naturally. It doesn't make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep," explains Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M.

Research shows that a supplement may help people with insomnia fall asleep slightly faster and may have bigger benefits for those with delayed sleep phase syndrome—falling asleep very late and waking up late the next day.

However, melatonin isn't recommended for long-term use, and this supplement may contraindicate with some medications or medical issues such as autoimmune disorder, a seizure disorder, or depression. 

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have diabetes or high blood pressure; melatonin supplements may raise blood sugar levels and increase blood pressure levels in people taking some hypertension medications. 

It's best to talk to your medical provider before starting any sleep medication, whether it's a natural supplement like melatonin or a prescription sleeping pill. 

Still Not Sleeping? 

If you've tried all the tips and tricks and are still having trouble sleeping, you may consider seeking help from a sleep specialist. If your sleep problems affect your daily life or cause health or mental health issues, getting professional help is important. 

According to Michael Grandner, sleep disorders are highly treatable, and most don't require the use of sleeping pills or medications to treat. So don't hesitate to seek help if you need better quality sleep at night—your body will thank you for it.

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