Why Seniors Have Difficulty Getting a Good Night's Sleep and 9 Tips That Can Help

Senior with sleep difficulties

According to “Sleep Tips for Older Adults,” “As we age, we often experience normal changes in our sleeping patterns, such as becoming sleepy earlier, waking up earlier, or experiencing less deep sleep.”

“A good night’s sleep is especially important to older adults because it helps improve concentration and memory formation, allows your body to repair any cell damage that occurred during the day, and refreshes your immune system, which in turn helps to prevent disease.”

Sleep experts say senior adults need about the same amount of sleep as all adults – 7 to 9 hours each night. But older people tend to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier than they did when they were younger.

In addition to the normal changes in sleep patterns due to aging, senior adults can have other issues that can rob them of a good night’s sleep.

Why Many Seniors Have Difficulty Sleeping 

According to Leslie Kernisan, MD/MPH,author of, “5 Top Causes of Sleep Problems in Aging, & Proven Ways to Treat Insomnia,” “Although aging by itself does change sleep, it’s also quite common for older adults to develop health problems that can cause sleep disturbances. So when your older relatives say they aren’t sleeping well, you’ll want to help them check for these. Figuring out what’s going on is always the first step in being able to improve things.”

“And remember, getting enough good quality sleep helps maintain brain health, physical health and mood.”

The top five causes of sleep problems in seniors include:

  1. Insomnia – Insomnia means having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, despite the opportunity to do so (e.g., being in bed), and experiencing decreased daytime function because of this. Insomnia is common among seniors. One study found that 23-24% of older adults reported symptoms of insomnia. 
  2. Underlying medical conditions –  Although older adults do often suffer from what’s called “primary” sleep disorders, many sleep problems they experience are “secondary” sleepproblems, meaning they are secondary to an underlying medical condition whose main symptoms are not sleep related.
  3. Sleep apnea and other forms of sleep-related breathing disorders – Sleep-related breathing disorders is an umbrella term covering a spectrum of problems related to how people breathe while asleep. Sleep apnea is a common condition which is critical to diagnose since it has been associated with many other health problems. 
  4. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) – movement disorders – This condition causes sensations of itching, crawling or restlessness as a person is trying to fall asleep.RLS has been associated with depression, anxiety and sleep-onset insomnia, and it can also get worse with certain types of medication.
  5. Periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS) – PLMS causes intermittent movements while asleep, usually in the lower limbs. It can affect the toes, ankles, knees or hips. The movements may or may not wake the person up; they can be annoying to a bed partner.

Colleen Dwyer, RN, BSN, NHA, Executive Director and Administrator of Bryn Mawr Terrace, says,“If you are having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, it is important to speak to your doctor to address any underlying problems and to pursue treatment options that will improve your sleep.”

“Insufficient sleep at night due to insomnia, sleep apnea or other medical conditions increases your risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and obesity. Sleep-deprived seniors are also at greater risk of dangerous falls, which is the number one cause of death and disability among older Americans today.”

“The good news is that there are useful tips for routine sleep problems that can help you to wake up more refreshed and energetic in the morning.”

9 Ways Seniors Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep

The National Institute on Aging article, “A Good Night's Sleep”, notes that “Being older doesn’t mean you have to be tired all the time. You can do many things to help you get a good night’s sleep.” Here are some ideas:

  1. Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends or when you are traveling.
  2. Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, if you can. Naps may keep you awake at night.
  3. Develop a bedtime routine. Take time to relax before bedtime each night. Some people read a book, listen to soothing music or soak in a warm bath.
  4. Try not to watch television or use your computer, cell phone or tablet in the bedroom. The light from these devices may make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Also, frightening or unsettling shows or movies, like horror movies, may keep you awake.
  5. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, not too hot or too cold, and as quiet as possible.
  6. Use low lighting in the evenings and as you prepare for bed.
  7. Exercise at regular times each day but not within three hours of your bedtime.
  8. Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime – this can keep you awake.
  9. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, soda and chocolate) can keep you awake. And remember, alcohol won’t help you sleep. Even small amounts make it harder to stay asleep.

Here’s wishing you restful sleep and pleasant dreams!

For more helpful senior living and senior care information, we invite you to read our monthly articles and tips on a variety of important senior health topics. We also welcome you to stop in for a tour to see for yourself why we’ve been rated “Best in Senior Care.” 

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, “Why Seniors Have Difficulty Getting a Good Night's Sleep and 9 Tips That Can Help,” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

A Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

There are times when the challenges associated with advanced age, a prolonged illness or a chronic condition make 24-hour care and support a necessity. At Bryn Mawr Terrace, we’re always here for you and your family. Our compassionate, professional team treats our residents as family and respects each of them as the individuals they are, all with their own unique life story.

We understand that each one of our residents has unique needs and desires, so we deliver personalized care and services that are tailored to each individual. The amenities and activities offered within our community are designed to keep our residents happy, fulfilled and living well. From delicious dining to a variety of social programming, we offer a lifestyle that’s meant to be lived!

Located near Bryn Mawr Hospital, Bryn Mawr Terrace – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has provided exceptional care and services to seniors and their families since 1966. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Bryn Mawr Terrace serves as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), offering a range of services – including short-term rehabilitationtraditional nursing careindependent living, personal carememory carerestorative care and respite care – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing. 

For more information on Bryn Mawr Terrace and our variety of needs-based lifestyle services, please call us at 610.525.8300 or contact us online.

Disclaimer:The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.


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