Quality sleep is essential to an older person’s physical, mental, and cognitive health, which makes sleeping tips for seniors valuable. A good night’s sleep helps us feel good, stay alert, and age well. Recent research validates this idea; the latest science has revolutionized our understanding of the impact of sleep on aging.
Unfortunately, lifestyle and age-related issues can make it difficult to optimize your sleep. Older adults with reduced physical, social, and work activities may not drain their energy during the day, leaving them alert at night. There are also natural changes to our bodies that can contribute to sleep issues. For instance, as we grow older our body produces lower levels of growth hormone, which can contribute to a decrease in deep sleep. Not only does deep sleep revitalize the body, it supports the body’s production of the hormone melatonin. Impaired melatonin production can in turn lead to fragmented sleep, creating a vicious cycle that leaves you unrested.
With so many potential obstacles, many seniors find restful sleep elusive. This has contributed to the common belief that older people need less sleep, but according to a Sleep Foundation article on Insomnia and Older Adults, that is not the case. The article states the average senior needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night, much like the majority of age ranges in the population.
If you or a senior in your life finds sleep difficult, there is reason for hope! There are several natural approaches to improving sleep – these 11 sleeping tips for seniors will help you to sleep better, age better, and live well.
Table of Contents
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #1: Get Daily Sunshine to Regulate Your Body’s Sleep-Wake Cycles.
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #2: Exercise Regularly to Improve Sleep
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #3: Stay Active and Engaged with Life as a Senior
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #4: Develop a Regular Sleep Schedule and Stick to It
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #5: Create a Relaxing Bedtime Ritual – No Electronics!
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #6: Create a Senior-Friendly Sleep Zone
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #7: Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon and Evening
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #8: Eat Your Last Meal 3 Hours Before Bedtime
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #9: Avoid Alcohol Before Sleep
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #10: Avoid Afternoon Naps
- Sleeping Tips for Seniors #11: Check Medications for Sleep-Disrupting Side Effects
- Next Steps
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #1: Get Daily Sunshine to Regulate Your Body’s Sleep-Wake Cycles.
Spend time outdoors, or by an open, sunny window, early in the day. Early sunlight exposure sends signals to your brain and body that it is time to be awake, and the sunset sends signals that it is time to wind down. These exposures helped to regulate our circadian rhythms, as well as crucial hormones such as melatonin. Adequate daily sunlight exposure is also important to sleeping well, so it may make sense to keep the blinds open to let sunlight in throughout the day.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #2: Exercise Regularly to Improve Sleep
We all know the ‘good tired’ feeling we get after a day of physical exertion.
Exercise is one of the best ways to sleep better! Getting out for a morning walk provides multiple benefits – the walk gets you off to a good start in terms of daily activity, and the morning light helps to set your circadian rhythm.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #3: Stay Active and Engaged with Life as a Senior
If you’ve retired, it is important to seek out social activities, volunteer work, or part-time work. Make it a point to schedule regular get-togethers with friends or family. You can also consider a class or meet-up group around an interest. In many cases, finding a group that can meet at the same time each week can create a steady source of social life without putting excessive demands on anyone’s time.
The quality of your sleep, and your life in general, will benefit if you remain active and engaged with your community. For more ideas on how to find engagement, read our article on 4 Ways for Seniors to Build Strong Community Ties.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #4: Develop a Regular Sleep Schedule and Stick to It
This is a critical sleeping tip for seniors. In Shawn Stevenson’s book Sleep Smarter, he notes that Ph.D. Joyce Walsleben of New York University’s Sleep Disorders center stated that “…Snoozing late on the weekend can also disrupt your sleep rhythm and make it difficult to go to bed Sunday night, so you’ll be starting the next week already in the hole.”
Walsleben’s comment is in the context of the weekend, but this sleeping tip for seniors applies every day of the week. If you go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, your body will adapt to the schedule and will love you for it!
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #5: Create a Relaxing Bedtime Ritual – No Electronics!
Whether or not you are conscious of it, your body picks up environmental cues to determine if it should be awake. In pre-industrial times, we shut down when the sun did. There were no TVs or smartphones to watch late at night.
Unfortunately, while the sunset can cue your body for sleep, screens do the opposite. Whether it is a computer, television, cell phone, or another electronic device, the screen stimulates your brain, setting you up for poor sleep. Of particular concern is blue light; as this WebMD article details, blue light interferes with melatonin production, which in turn impacts our body’s ability to prepare for sleep. Our ability to produce melatonin can decline as we age, so this is an especially important sleeping tip for seniors who are not sleeping well at night.
Instead of late-night screen time, you can signal to your body that it is time to sleep with relaxing activities. Ideally, you will begin to wind down an hour before bed. It is helpful to set up a soothing ritual to enjoy. Taking a warm bath or shower, enjoying a cup of caffeine-free tea, listening to music, and reading a book are all great ways to prime your body for sleep.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #6: Create a Senior-Friendly Sleep Zone
Another important sleeping tip for seniors is to ensure that the bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Bedrooms should be an electronic-free zone. One exception is a motion-activated night light; these are a great way to make nighttime bathroom trips safe while keeping the bedroom dark.
Your mattress is also another important consideration. The best sleep environment doesn’t do much if your mattress is uncomfortable – a quality mattress is an important investment in your health.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #7: Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon and Evening
Caffeine is a great way to start the day, but consuming it in the afternoon and evening can negatively impact sleep quality.
People respond to caffeine differently, and older adults may become more sensitive to the effects. A key sleeping tip for seniors who struggle to wake up feeling rested is to scale back or eliminate caffeine after midday.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #8: Eat Your Last Meal 3 Hours Before Bedtime
Dr. Joseph Mercola, the author of Ketofast, is one of many health professionals who advocates for a break between your last meal and bedtime. According to Dr. Mercola, eating close to bed has a negative impact on a variety of systems.
A heavy or spicy meal can leave you sleepless, but even if you fall asleep right after eating, your sleep quality will be affected. Instead of carrying out the many clean-out processes meant to happen during sleep, your body will be digesting its meal. Three hours before bed is ideal, but even an hour gap between the final meal and sleep has its benefits.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #9: Avoid Alcohol Before Sleep
Alcohol might help you fall asleep. Unfortunately, it has a negative impact on sleep quality. Alcohol is known to disrupt sleep cycles, so even if you are asleep for eight hours, the sleep quality may be poor.
One sleeping tip for seniors who want to enjoy a drink? Have your cocktail at Happy Hour before an early dinner. This gives your body time to process the alcohol and the meal before bedtime.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #10: Avoid Afternoon Naps
Seniors that sleep during the day often have trouble sleeping at night. The implications of this could be counter-intuitive; the senior may need their afternoon nap because of poor quality sleep at night.
This can become a vicious cycle, which makes it important to get on a regular sleep schedule. This may mean pushing through fatigue during the day to set up a good night’s sleep and a reset. If the nap remains essential, it is advisable to take it in the morning and keep it brief.
Sleeping Tips for Seniors #11: Check Medications for Sleep-Disrupting Side Effects
A crucial sleeping tip for seniors is to take any medications that will keep them awake in the morning. It is always important to discuss the side effects of your medication(s) with your Physician, particularly if you are taking multiple prescriptions.
If a medication is known to disrupt sleep patterns, ask about alternatives. The positive benefit of the medication could be neutralized or even outweighed by the negative if it causes poor sleep. Again, talk to your physician to ensure you have the best plan in place.
Sleeping well throughout our life is important to aging, but we feel the effects more at older ages. Optimal sleep becomes essential to our health, so it is good to have some sleeping tips for seniors in hand. Correcting sleep issues can have an outsized benefit on a senior’s health.
If you or a senior you love is struggling with sleep, be sure to discuss it with your medical provider. These sleeping tips for seniors can resolve many issues, but it is important to have a professional in your corner if the issue is severe.
A good night’s sleep is worth the effort – collaborate with your medical provider and use the sleeping tips for seniors – your body and brain will thank you!