Sleep is vital to all the body’s processes. It helps the body regulate its metabolism, improves mood, and increases energy. As we age, sleeping can become more difficult. Medications, pain, anxiety, changing hormones, and other medical conditions can affect the quality of sleep and cause sleep disorders such as insomnia. Practicing good sleep hygiene can improve the outlook for older adults who may be suffering from troubled sleep, and some of those tips are below!
Tips for Better Sleep
• As with other adults, the recommended hours per night of sleep for older adults remains about 7-9. The amount of time you sleep though is still not as important as the quality of sleep, so if you or your aging loved one is waking up tired and not feeling refreshed, it may be a sign that you aren’t getting a good night’s rest with quality sleep.
• Be consistent in your loved one's sleep schedule. One of the best practices for good sleep is to keep a regular bedtime, even on weekends or during vacations when their routine may change some. This helps set aside time for sleep in a predictable manner and will make it easier to keep your loved one's circadian rhythm in check.
• Avoid letting your loved one nap late in the afternoon. Getting sleep during the day may affect their sleep when it’s time for bed.
• Avoid blue light and screens at least one hour before bed. It’s easy to want to spend some time mindlessly browsing social media, researching something, and watching TV before bed, but there is evidence that blue light affects a person’s circadian rhythm and can make going to sleep challenging.
• Keep bedroom or sleeping area at a comfortable temperature. Keeping your loved one's room around 68-72 degrees is best for sleep. Pull the shades or shut the door if there is light coming in from another room or outside, and keep their room as quiet as possible for good sleep.
• Have your loved one avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day or before bedtime. Don’t let them eat a large or spicy meal right before bed as this may cause heartburn or indigestion making it more challenging for them to get a proper sleep.
• Encourage your loved one to drink enough water, eat a nutritious, healthy diet, and exercise regularly as tolerated.
When to Seek Help:
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to get a good night’s sleep, you may still have trouble falling or staying asleep. If this is the case, it may warrant a sleep study and a visit to your physician or sleep specialist to clue you in on what may be preventing you to sleep well. Conditions that affect sleep are insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Your doctor may want to order a sleep study but may prescribe medication or adjust the doses of other medications your loved one may take that could be affecting their sleep.
Signs of Insomnia:
Insomnia is the most common sleep-related problem in older adults over the age of 60. Symptoms include:
• Taking a long time to fall asleep
• Waking up tired
• Frequent waking up at night
• Waking up early and not being able to fall back to sleep
Another common sleep disorder in older adults is Sleep Apnea which is characterized by pauses in breathing while asleep, and snoring loudly can be signs of Sleep Apnea.
This may happen several or more times during the night, leading to poor sleep quality, and other physical symptoms such as headaches and excessive daytime sleepiness. Other issues may arise when someone has sleep apnea, such as memory impairments, high blood pressure, and increased risk of strokes in severe cases. It is often treated with a sleep mask that helps oxygenate a person while they're asleep so they keep breathing and thus can get a better night’s sleep.
Lastly, movement disorders can cause poor sleep, such as Restless Leg Syndrome. Those who have RLS may experience physical sensations such as pins and needles, feelings of something crawling on one or both of their legs, and sometimes uncontrollable limbic movement. Medications and vitamin supplements are a couple of ways doctors recommend for treating the condition.
To learn more about how sleep changes as your loved one ages, click here.