As people age, the odds of having a sleeping disorder rise dramatically. Many older adults either can’t fall asleep at night, wake up too often, or can’t breathe properly while trying to sleep. In fact, 40% of seniors struggle with serious health problems as a result of poor sleeping habits and a general lack of sleep.
What are the senior health problems that arise from not getting a good night’s sleep? And what can you do to help combat sleep deprivation? Look through this blog to get the information you need about seniors and sleep—along with ideas on how you can fix your sleeping habits before bedtime tonight.
What Constitutes a “Good Night’s Sleep”?
There’s a common misconception that seniors don’t need as much sleep as other adults, which has likely arisen due to the large number of seniors who struggle to get enough sleep. However, that's just not true. Seniors need the same amount of sleep as they did when they were younger. All adults over 20 years of age need somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep per day.
Why Seniors Don’t Get Enough Sleep
The main causes of sleep deprivation in seniors can usually be linked to two different sources—insomnia or sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs when breathing patterns are interrupted during sleep. This limits the flow of oxygen to the brain, which in turn causes you to wake up in order to correct the breathing error. While there are certain groups of people who are more likely to have sleep apnea, it generally becomes more common as you age.
If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. They might be able to give you tips on lifestyle changes that will reduce your overall risk, or help you get a CPAP machine or other device that can help open up your airways.
Insomnia is a sleeping disorder characterized by an inability to fall asleep or an inability to stay asleep. Seniors often get insomnia from:
- Side effects of medications needed for other health problems
- Anxiety and stress about aging
- Other health-related issues such as chronic pain
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation on Senior Health
The number one danger of sleep deprivation is daytime fatigue, a condition that makes people extremely tired throughout the day—although they don’t fall asleep as a result of their sleepiness. Instead, they suffer from:
- An inability to complete simple tasks
- Memory problems
- A lack of concentration
- Lowered energy levels
- A lack of motivation
- Decreased interest in socialization
In addition to daytime fatigue, sleep deprivation can lead to a number of other serious health issues like:
How to Improve Your Sleeping Habits
With sleep deprivation being such a dangerous issue for seniors to contend with, it’s important that immediate steps are taken to fix sleeping habits. Try avoiding taking sleep medication if you can—it can be expensive, habit-forming, and comes with its own side effects. Instead, use mediation and prescriptions as a last resort and first try natural ways to improve your sleep.
Create a Sleeping Routine
A nighttime routine can help signal to your brain that it’s time for bed, which is especially helpful if you struggle with insomnia. A routine can include things like:
- Taking a warm bath before bed
- Drinking a glass of water
- Winding down with some light reading and relaxing music
- Turning off all lights
- Going to bed at a consistent time (and waking up at the same time each day)
Avoid Certain Behaviors at Night
Sometimes engaging in certain behaviors or activities before bed can hurt your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Things to avoid before bed include:
- Watching TV or using smartphones and other electronics
- Eating heavy meals before bed
- Drinking anything with caffeine or alcohol before you try and sleep
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol during the day
- Smoking right before bedtime
- Exercising at night
Optimize Your Room for Sleep
There are simple changes you can make in your apartment and bedroom that can help you improve your sleeping habits, such as:
- Making your room dark
- Keeping the temperature cooler at nighttime
- Taking electronics and TVs out of the bedroom
- Creating a noise level that lulls you to sleep—usually either silence or a soft white noise
- Removing distracting or unnecessary lights and sounds in your room
- Using your bed only for sleeping, not for relaxing in during the day
It’s essential that seniors get to sleep at night, or you can risk coming down with some serious health problems. By being aware of how much sleep you should be getting and taking immediate action steps, you can improve your sleeping habits and get the right amount of rest as you age.