Sleep Tips for Older Adults

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things people of all ages can do to improve and maintain their overall quality of life. Over time, people’s schedules and sleep needs change, but it’s important to listen to your body and make sure it is always well rested. In general, older adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, this need is often not met and can result in a variety of negative side effects.

During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. If you’re sleep deficient, you may experience drowsiness, slower reaction times and difficulty making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and coping with mental stress. Sleep deprivation also has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and obesity. You actually feel hungrier when you’re sleep deprived because hormones that regulate feelings of fullness and hunger are regulated during sleep.

Making the most of every day starts by waking up feeling fresh, relaxed and well rested. Here, we highlight tips to help older adults improve their sleep quality and, as a result, increase their mental, physical and emotional well-being.

  • Don’t go to bed unless you’re tired. If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get out of bed, do a relaxing, low-stress activity, and go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
  • Set and maintain a regular schedule. This means waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day.
  • Begin rituals that help you relax each night before bed. Read a book (personal development or positive, inspiring nonfiction books are great options), listen to calming music or an audiobook, turn on a diffuser with your favorite calming essential oil or engage in a mindfulness activity.
  • Use the bed for sleeping only.
  • Avoid drinking anything that contains caffeine after lunchtime.
  • Don’t consume alcohol within six hours of bedtime or nicotine right before bedtime.
  • Although you shouldn’t eat a big meal right before going to bed, you also should avoid going to bed hungry. If you need a snack before settling down for the night, consider a handful of unsalted nuts or seeds, fruit (a banana or tart cherry juice are good options), oatmeal and yogurt. Avoid salty and acidic foods, as well as foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates.
  • Don’t exercise within six hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid sleeping pills.
  • Don’t go to bed upset or worried. Clear your mind by conducting a “brain dump” where you write down all of your thoughts, worries and list of things to do the following day or week and “release” them from your mind. Those who need help mentally preparing themselves for sleep also may benefit from a gratitude or mindfulness journal.
  • Do not take naps throughout the day, especially if you are having trouble falling or staying asleep at night.

There are many things older adults can do to improve their quality of sleep. However, those who continue to experience sleep deprivation despite implementing healthy sleeping habits may be suffering from a sleeping disorder, such as insomnia, REM-sleep behavior disorder, narcolepsy, periodic leg movements, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. Although these sleep disorders are common, especially in older adults it is important not to let these conditions go untreated.

If you’re concerned you may have a sleeping disorder or are experiencing sleep deprivation, contact your Upside Manager, who can help walk you through the next steps and set up an appointment between you and your primary health care provider.

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