While insomnia can strike at any age, there are specific physical issues and changes seniors face that can exacerbate the issue. As we age, fewer growth hormones are produced, which can result in less deep-wave sleep in older adults. Circadian rhythms change and seniors find themselves wanting to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Melatonin production slows and sleep can become lighter and more fragmented.
However, there are some things seniors can do to sleep more deeply and consistently. Some of these tips are geared toward anyone with insomnia; others are of particular benefit to seniors:
1. Improve the sleeping environment and habits. Seniors should strive to keep regular sleeping hours and not go to sleep with the television on. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided throughout the day but especially right before bed, as should spicy foods or anything that might cause heartburn. Windows in the bedroom should have thick shades and curtains to help block the morning sunlight and ensure total darkness during sleeping hours.
2. Exercise daily. People who are too sedentary may feel either vaguely tired all day long or not tired when it’s bed time. Seniors should try and get some physical activity every day so that they can sleep more soundly and restfully through the night. Getting out in the fresh air and sunlight while exercising is even better, as it can promote even deeper sleep. Being active during the day is a big contributor to sleeping better at night.
3. Reduce/manage stress. Another major cause of insomnia is unmanaged stress levels. Seniors should receive help or treatment for issues like anxiety and depression, but also take steps to reduce stress on a daily basis. Exercise, talking with loved ones, doing activities they enjoy, and even having a pet for companionship can all reduce stress levels.
4. A bedtime ritual. Developing a relaxing bedtime ritual can also help to relieve insomnia. Taking a bath, listening to soothing music and reading before bed can all have a sedating effect. Prayer and meditation can also be helpful for promoting relaxation and make going to sleep (and staying asleep) much easier.
5. Seek treatment for sleep disorders. Genuine physical disorders such as sleep apnea, RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome), chronic illnesses and unmanaged pain can all contribute to insomnia. These are genuine physical issues that should be addressed and managed with professional treatment.
Getting enough sleep is crucial to physical and emotional well being for everyone, but it’s even more important for seniors. The body regenerates itself during sleep, and when sleep is impaired, quality of life suffers. Seniors can use these five tips to sleep better, live healthier and get more enjoyment out of life.