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How To Promote Sleep in Seniors

Dealing with restlessness and wandering can be exhausting as we age. Learn how to promote sleep in elderly individuals, combat sleep issues, and create a safe sleep environment.

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Promoting Sleep in the Elderly: Get a Peaceful Night’s Sleep With These Top Tips

Is there anyone who enjoys tossing and turning throughout the night? 

No? We didn’t think so. 

You might notice that your sleep pattern changes as the candles on your birthday cake grow. As a result, your sleep may be less restful — or you might even fall asleep during the day.

To get the sleep you need, there are things you can do. With a bit of reading, you will realize it is possible to have a good night’s sleep.  

In this article, you will learn: 

  • How aging affects sleep

  • How to promote sleep in the elderly

  • And much more

How Many Hours of Sleep Do Seniors Need? 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, older adults (age 65 and older) require between seven and eight hours of quality sleep daily. 

This number is about the same as the amount of sleep recommended for adults age 18 and older, between seven and nine hours.

Seniors need about as much sleep as their children and grandchildren to feel fully rested.

Please note that this is only a guideline and can differ from person to person.

How Does Aging Affect Sleep? 

Older adults often experience negative changes in their sleep quality. 

These are caused by changes in the body’s internal clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN helps our body keep track of our circadian rhythms. 

Our daily routines are influenced by circadian rhythms, like when we get hungry or feel sleepy. 

As we get older, sleep changes due to the effects of an aging SCN. When the SCN’s function deteriorates, it can disrupt circadian rhythms, directly affecting when we feel alert and tired.

SCNs receive information from the eyes, and light is a powerful cue for maintaining circadian rhythms. Unfortunately, many older people have insufficient daylight exposure, averaging only one hour daily. People with Alzheimer’s and those living in nursing homes may have even less daylight exposure.

Changes in hormone production may also cause sleep disturbances in older adults. One of these hormones is melatonin. Melatonin promotes sleep by coordinating circadian rhythms, and we secrete less melatonin with age — therefore, our circadian rhythm is again affected.

How To Promote Sleep in Elderly Individuals: 7 Tips for an Improved Night’s Sleep

#1: Identify Any Underlying Sleep Issues

Several underlying causes of insomnia or sleep difficulties are very treatable. Identifying all possible causes allows you to tailor your treatment accordingly.

To determine if there is an underlying cause to your insomnia, consider the following six questions: 

  1. Do you feel stressed out?

  2. Do you feel depressed?

  3. Are you prone to chronic anxiety or worry?

  4. Have you recently been through a traumatic event?

  5. Do you take any medications that might affect your sleep?

  6. Is there a health problem that might interfere with your sleep?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should consult your doctor. 

Additionally, sleep issues often plague seniors who have been diagnosed with dementia.  

The number of people with dementia who experience sleep disturbances may range from 25% for those with mild dementia to 50% for those with severe dementia. The severity of dementia tends to worsen sleep disturbances.

Dementia patients may also experience a phenomenon called sundowning in the evenings or during the night. The term “sundowning” refers to a period of confusion among elderly dementia patients during the late afternoon and evening hours.

During sundowning, there may be feelings of: 

  • Confusion

  • Agitation

  • Anxiety; or

  • Aggression

Additionally, wandering is common with sundowning, but night wandering can be dangerous in this state of mind.

Additionally, Alzheimer’s disease patients are also more likely to suffer from obstructed sleep apnea. This is because breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep in this potentially severe sleep disorder.

If an underlying condition causes a senior’s sleep issue, it’s essential to consult with a doctor for appropriate treatment.

#2: Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly improves sleep quality and reduces daytime sleepiness in the elderly. In addition to improving insomnia and sleep apnea symptoms, regular exercise increases the time spent in deep, restorative sleep.

Research has shown that the more vigorously you exercise, the better your sleep will be. However, even light exercise, such as walking for 10 minutes daily, will benefit your rest. 

It’s important to be mindful that during exercise, your: 

  • Metabolism speeds up

  • Body temperature rises; and

  • Cortisol levels rise.

This isn’t a problem in the morning or afternoon, but exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep. 

Specific exercises may benefit your rest more than others if you wish to exercise at night, such as:

  • Yoga

  • Light stretching; and 

  • Breathing exercises

Please note that it can take several months to experience the full effects of exercise on quality sleep — so be patient and work on building a habit of exercising.

#3: Develop a Routine

It is essential for everyone to have routines, no matter their age. But as we age, our bodies may become more dependent on them. 

A soothing bedtime ritual is highly recommended for seniors. 

Relaxation techniques such as …

  • Progressive muscle relaxation

  • Reading a novel

  • Mindfulness meditation; or

  • Deep breathing 

… can help you wind down before bedtime.

Additionally, it would be best to keep the same sleep schedule every day, even on weekends and when traveling.

#4: Change or Maintain Healthy Eating Habits

It’s important to be aware of foods that trigger insomnia or digestive issues. If you notice recurring problems with certain foods, it might be best to eliminate these foods from your diet.  

You can improve by following a few dietary tips:

  • Limit caffeine late in the day.

  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime.

  • If hungry, have a light snack before bedtime. 

  • Cut down on sugary foods.

  • Before bedtime, avoid big meals and spicy foods. 

  • Minimize liquid intake before sleep.

The complexity of sleep and nutrition, as well as the multiple interconnected systems of the body, makes it challenging to find a single diet that is best for sleep. So instead, a person should focus on getting adequate nutrition without overeating unhealthy foods.

All Senior Services of America community residents are encouraged to maintain good health on all levels. Providing them with a variety of healthy meals each day is our pleasure. 

Senior Services of America’s assisted living communities can support you or your loved one during aging. Our amenities and programs are designed to help you age with dignity and grace. 

Find your nearest community to learn more.

#5: Create an Ideal Sleep Environment

How well an individual sleeps and how long they sleep is greatly influenced by their sleep environment.

Sleeping in a high-quality environment will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Conversely, an uncomfortable sleeping environment can make it difficult to drift off, keeping you awake for extended periods and affecting your sleep quality.

Following are a few environmental conditions to consider which can affect the quality of sleep:

  1. Temperature — Adapt the temperature of your heating or cooling to suit your comfort level. 

  2. Noise — If you have a noisy sleep environment, it is possible to manage noise in the sleeping area by using earplugs or setting up a white noise machine.

  3. Light — If there are any lights in the sleeping area, it will be difficult to fall asleep. Consider using a sleep mask if it’s impossible to turn off or dim the lights. 

  4. Bed and mattress quality — Your bed should be firm enough to support your body for an ideal sleeping environment.

  5. Clutter — The clutter in your bedroom can disrupt sleep and cause stress and anxiety.

#6: Reduce Discomfort From Pain With Extra Pillows/Support

How can you get a good night’s sleep if you are not comfortable while trying to doze off?

If you are a side sleeper, try using a pillow between your knees. If you sleep on your back, a small pillow under the back of your knees will reduce stress on your spine. 

Don’t forget about your mattress. The quality of your mattress is equally important. Consider the age of your mattress — you may be long overdue for a replacement that would provide more support.

#7: Reduce Screen Time Before Bed

Hormones control your internal clock — and your body uses these hormones to tell you when to sleep. In the daytime, cortisol is produced, while melatonin (released naturally) takes center stage at night. 

Screens such as …

  • Smartphones

  • Laptops; and

  • TV sets 

… emit blue light that interferes with your body’s natural melatonin production, shutting off the “sleepy” signals your brain receives before bed.

As a result of this blue light exposure, you can have a harder time settling down at night, keeping you awake for longer.

How to Promote Safe Sleep in Elderly Individuals

To promote sleep in elderly men and women, you should provide a safe and comfortable sleep environment for your older family members, while considering their unique needs. 

There may be an increased risk of accidents, even at home, due to physical and mental decline. However, these risks can be mitigated just by taking a few precautions. 

A few things you can do to promote safety with sleep in the elderly include: 

  1. Charge your phone. — In case of an emergency, keep your phone close and charged. But be aware that scrolling or playing games can negatively affect your sleep.

  2. Prevent trips or falls. — A trip or fall in the home poses a significant risk for seniors. In the bedroom, there are many potential hazards. Removing obstacles such as clutter or unnecessary furniture is imperative. 

  3. Use sleeping pills wisely. — Sleeping pills are intended for short-term use, not as long-term management for poor sleep. Seniors often take several prescription medications, and sleeping pills can interact with them. As a result, they can cause confusion or balance problems, increasing the risk of falls and accidents.

Senior Services of America: Creating an Environment for Seniors To Continue To Thrive 

The teams at Senior Services of America communities strive to help seniors live a more fulfilling life. 

Our goal is to keep seniors active in our care by offering organized activities and assistance where needed.

It’s our pleasure to keep our seniors active and involved in the community so they can remain as independent as possible.

Explore the many services that Senior Services of America can provide for you and the seniors in your life by finding a community near you.