There’s no getting around it. Sleep can be a struggle for seniors. Insomnia and snoring increase as do instances of dementia and the need for medications that may cause wakefulness. But seniors need the same seven to nine hours as other adults. Sleep problems can primarily be reduced with good sleep habits and a plan that addresses individual sleep issues.
Incorporate Daily Exercise
A 2010 study found that aerobic exercise can help seniors fall asleep faster and reduce night wakings. While insomnia isn’t the only sleep issue seniors may be facing, any kind of exercise can help wear the body out while helping to maintain muscle tone and heart health.
Exercise doesn’t need to be vigorous or strenuous to bring sleep benefits. Yoga, swim aerobics, and walking are low impact forms of exercise that can be tailored to the needs of seniors. Activities that can be enjoyed with others also offer social opportunities. While thirty minutes per day is recommended, any exercise is always better than none.
Bright Light Therapy
Sunlight, and other forms of blue spectrum light, naturally suppress sleep hormones during the day. As light fades, sleep hormones get released. Aging eyes often don’t let in as much light as they once did. When the eyes cannot absorb as much sunlight as is necessary to regulate sleep hormones, sleep irregularities like daytime sleepiness and nighttime insomnia may follow.
Increasing daytime exposure to blue spectrum light can help put the sleep cycle back on track. Seniors who participate in bright light therapy spend a few minutes each morning in front of a lamp with a specially designed light blub that mimics sunlight. The increased exposure to blue spectrum light supports the body’s natural rhythms and can improve the regularity of the sleep cycle.
Stress can be a major sleep loss factor at any age. Seniors may face the loss of a spouse, financial changes, and/or moving out of a beloved home. The stress of life changes can compound sleep problems. Meditation is a simple, time effective way to manage stress.
Meditation has been shown to strengthen connections between the brain’s emotional and logical centers to aid emotional control. With practice, it can also reduce heart rate and improve blood pressure both of which can reduce stress and improve sleep. Seniors can participate in classes with a live instructor or meditation CDs or apps. Even 10 to 15 minutes per day can be enough to reduce stress levels.
Create a Bedroom of Comfort
Comfort can be an issue for seniors as aches and pains tend to increase with age. A heating pad, over the counter pain medication, and a glass of water on a nightstand provide easy access to nighttime pain relief.
A supportive mattress that’s the right firmness level for height and weight can make a big difference. Adjustable beds are other good option as they allow seniors to make adjustments for injuries and can be easier to get out of. Environmental conditions like cool to moderate bedroom temperatures, complete darkness, and absolute quiet make a difference too. Motion sensor nightlights are often a good idea as they allow seniors to see during nighttime trips to the bathroom, yet the light won’t keep them awake.
Set a Reasonable, Regular Bedtime
The human body, no matter the age, relies on consistency and behavioral patterns to correctly time the release of sleep hormones. A regular bedtime and calming bedtime routine are key to a consistent sleep pattern. The familiarity of routine also helps with dementia and other neurological issues that may come with age as they may reduce fear and irritability related to sundowning.
Seniors need just as much sleep as other adults. They face unique challenges, but a plan and support from family, friends, and health professionals can help.
Contributed by Amy Highland, SleepHelp.org
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy's a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.