According to the American Psychological Association, more than 40 million Americans suffer from lack of sleep—many of whom are older adults.
On average, our bodies need 7 to 9 hours of good sleep every night. As we age, however, it often becomes more difficult to get a restful night of sleep.
Older adults may not get enough sleep at night for a variety of reasons. We spoke in a previous blog about how the aches and pains of chronic arthritis contribute to sleeplessness and fatigue, but there are many other factors and conditions that can contribute to disrupted sleep in older adults.
Insomnia is probably the most common sleep problem in seniors.
While the condition can be caused by any number of stressors in your senior living, the side effects and symptoms remain constant— a persistent fatigue brought on by difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.
Sleep apnea, the interruption of breathing during sleep, is a serious sleep disorder that can leave you feeling tired and lead to serious health problems like high blood pressure, stroke, or memory loss.
Movement Disorders like restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder are common in older adults and can rob you of needed sleep.
Alzheimer’s disease often changes sleeping habits. The disruptive nature of the disease may cause some people to sleep too much, too little or to wake up many times during the night.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is an essential part of living well.
Being older doesn’t mean you’re doomed to suffer sleeplessness and chronic fatigue. You can take charge of your sleep by promoting a few good habits.
Follow a regular sleep schedule and develop a bedtime routine that helps you relax before sleep. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day and try to avoid napping after about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. As you prepare for bed, go through a few activities that help you unwind. Listen to soothing music or read a chapter from a book.
Create an environment that promotes restful sleep. Make yourself comfortable by investing in a good mattress and keeping the thermostat at a temperature where you won’t become chilled or overheated. Keep things as dark and quiet as possible.
Get outside at least once a day. Try taking walks in the morning and late afternoon while you can get a few rays. You’ll soak up revitalizing Vitamin D from the sun, and regular exercise always promotes wellness. Just try to avoid working up a sweat within 3 hours of your scheduled bedtime as that burst of energy you get from a work out can keep you awake at night.
Be careful about what you drink and when you drink it. Drinking anything too close to bedtime may cause you to wake up during the night, and beverages with caffeine (even if it’s only tea or hot chocolate) can keep you awake.
Dedicate your bedroom as a place to sleep. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning for hours. After you settle down for the night, get up and out of bed if you’re still feeling wide awake after about 20 minutes. Only go back to bed when you start to feel tired.
If you feel tired and unable to do regular activities for an extended period of time, you may have a sleep problem. Don’t rely on over the counter pharmaceuticals; these sleep aids are only a stopgap measure. Talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you have about your sleep patterns and see what you can do to safely get a good night’s sleep.