How Much Sleep Do Seniors Need?

We all want to sleep like a log or sleep like a baby all the time through all our years.  When we’re younger, sleep is easy, unless out and about all night.  Kids, teenagers, and young adults sleep more soundly in a deep sleep with fewer times waking up in the night.  As we get older, we spend much less time in the slow wave and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.  Sleep is in a lighter stage and we sometimes don’t feel we had enough sleep in this stage.  Seniors tend to get up from 1 to 3 times each night to go to the bathroom remembering their confusing dreams with slight noises waking them up.

Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), insomnia, and restless leg syndrome (RLS) are experienced by older adults and seniors.  It’s problematic for these people to sleep all night long.

  1. Sleep Problems and Medical Issues

Other sleep problems for seniors can be due to physical and psychological conditions and the side effect of prescription drugs to help those conditions, sometimes making the problems feel worse.  Side effects are no fun for anyone.  It’s hard to sleep when you have pain.  Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are a very painful bone discomfort making it not only hard to get to sleep but makes everyday activities nearly impossible.  The agony from lower back and neck pain can be agonizing as well

There are other medical disorders that can keep people awake.

  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma and Allergies
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Disease
  • Congestive Heart Failure
  • Obesity
  • PAD (Peripheral Artery Disease)
  • Autoimmune: Fibromyalgia, lupus, thyroid
  • Depression
  • Multiple Chronic Illnesses
  • Vision and Hearing Loss

Medications for the various ailments such as high-blood pressure, statins for lowering cholesterol, drugs for inflammation for rheumatoid arthritis, and others can interrupt sleep.

  1. Physiological Changes with Aging

Physiological means the body.  Changes occur gradually through the years and can cause problems for older adults and elderly adults to have a hard time sleeping:

  • Hormone levels drop in both women and men with age. There are other hormones besides estrogen and testosterone.  Cortisol, melatonin, serotonin, human growth hormone, also known as somatotropin, stimulates growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in our bodies.  When these hormones become less, our sleep is less too.
  • The body’s 24-hour clock, known as circadian rhythms, can become disrupted interfering with the quality and amount of sleep for geriatrics—the elderly, the aged seniors.

  • What you inherited from your parents and ancestors can play a role in sleep deprivation.
  • Older adults are more prone to noise, light, and temperature change, making their sleep time short in the light-sleep phase they now endure.
  1. How to Help Elders Sleep Better

Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.  A consistent schedule helps to regulate circadian rhythms.  Some things that can and will help.  Make a plan and work your plan.

  • Exercise—if you feel up to it, join an exercise class for seniors such as Curves®. It’s a nice place to do mild exercise, keep your blood flowing, and offers the chance to mix with others.  Other exercise is walking, light gardening, and walking the dog.

Yoga, Pilates, and Ti Chi are relaxing and benefit sleep.  It’s not a good idea to exercise within 3 hours of going to bed.  These 3 exercises are spiritual and good for your spirit peace, mind, and body.

  • Daytime Napping—is beneficial for 15 to 20 minutes as long as it’s not in the later afternoon that can interfere with regular nighttime sleep.  If you nap for more than an hour, it can interfere with your normal bedtime routine.

Without adequate sleep, mature adults can:

  • Be forgetful
  • Be clumsy
  • Have memory problems
  • Feel irritable
  • Feel depressed
  • Have coordination problems for falls and accidents
  • Be confused when driving

Seniors are inclined to go to bed and get up earlier than when they were younger too.

  1. Ideas for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

  • Relax, read, work a puzzle, listen to music, and soak in a warm bubble bath—men love it too!
  • Be sure your bedroom is cool at about 68-degrees in the winter.
  • Keep your lights on low where you sit before bed time.
  • Don’t eat large meals before bed; you will lay awake digesting it for hours.
  • Be sure your mattress is comfortable and coverings not too heavy with a good pillow for spinal alignment.
  • Caffeine late at night can keep you from sleeping such as coffee, hot chocolate, tea, soda, and chocolate.
  • Alcohol does not help you get to sleep; that’s a myth.

Have a turkey sandwich, a cup of chamomile tea, or a banana, and turn off electronic devices that keep you alert and awake

Stay away from over-the-counter sleeping aids because they become addictive and stop working



Final Thoughts

If these ideas do not work, it is best to consult your healthcare provider for determining your specific sleep problems.  At least try the suggestions here and see how that works for you.  Happy sleeping with peaceful dreams!

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