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Sleep Awareness Month: How to Improve Senior Sleep Patterns

Sleep deprivation and other sleep issues can impact senior health significantly. Learn how to improve sleep patterns for seniors.

An average of 7½ to 9 hours of sleep each night is considered healthy for most adults. Seniors are often unable to sleep this much due to a variety of sleep-related problems. During sleep awareness month, learn what can be done to help seniors establish healthy sleep patterns.

*Sleep Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation.

How Aging Affects Sleep

Unfortunately, changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging. Many seniors have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. In some cases, the challenge is due to a sleeping disorder or the side effect of a medication.

However, sleep disturbance in the aging is often just the result of reduced REM sleep. In other words, seniors tend to be lighter sleepers. They wake up more often due to noise, aches, movement, the need to use the bathroom, etc.

(The Sleep Foundation)

Common Sleep Illnesses Seniors Face

For those seniors whose difficulties with sleep result from medical conditions, it is important to receive medical treatment. Encourage sleep-deprived seniors to see the doctor if they experience:

  1. Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome
  2. Sleep Apnea
  3. Restless Leg Syndrome
  4. Insomnia
  5. Sleep-related side effects of medication
  6. Sleep-related side effects of underlying diseases

Issues like these are often addressed through lifestyle changes or medications. Seniors can consult with their doctor to learn about the best treatment options for their particular problem.

Sleep Tips for the Aging

To make the most out of sleep, seniors can use these simple tips:

1. Be Mindful

Stress, worry, and negative thought patterns can disrupt sleep—even if seniors try to “think positively” right before bed. Since sleep deprivation affects mental health and vice versa, it is important to encourage seniors to develop a healthy response to stress at all hours.

2. Exercise Regularly

Physical activity can help the body sleep. Regular exercise also offers health benefits that positively impact sleep, like lower blood pressure, stress relief, and improved breathing.

3. Form a Bedtime Routine

Many habits can influence sleep for better or for worse. Lying in bed during the day can disrupt sleep patterns. Watching television or screen time on the phone at night can also delay sleep. Encourage seniors to establish a bedtime routine that includes doing something quiet and relaxing for an hour.

4. Eat and Drink for Better Sleep

Sometimes seniors drink alcohol before bed because it makes them sleepy. However, alcohol tends to wake people up in the middle of the night and reduce REM sleep cycles. Food does the same. Seniors should avoid eating food or drinking alcohol for 2-3 hours before bedtime.

(Better Health While Aging)

 

Prevention Tips

Some sleep problems can be prevented using these tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Address breathing problems
  • Track medications and corresponding side effects
  • Develop a healthy mindset
  • Stick to a routine
  • Don’t nap for more than 20 minutes at a time

(FamilyDoctor.org)

Warning!

Many medications designed to aid sleep are habit forming. Such drugs often have impactful side effects as well. Be sure that seniors only use pharmaceutical sleep aids in the short-term and that they follow doctor’s directions. (WebMD)

Home Care Tip

Sleep problems can cause mental health issues. They can also be a sign of an existing mental health problem. If a senior has difficulty with sleep and exhibits emotional trouble, suggest that they have their mental wellness evaluated. (Helpguide)

Ted Wolfendale

Administrator at Dial-a-Nurse
Mr. Wolfendale is a graduate of Stetson University, and Stetson University School of Law, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1988. He is admitted to practice in the Middle district of Florida, is an active member of the Florida Health Law section, and Lee County Bar Association.

In 1995 he became Administrator of Dial-a-Nurse nursing agency, the oldest nursing agency in the Southwest Florida succeeding his mother who started the company 37 years ago. He is also President of Nevco, Inc., an educational healthcare training company begun in 1988.

Mr. Wolfendale has worked with the U.S. Department of Commerce on various Missions to improve the quality of life around the world by development of supportive healthcare programs. In 2005 he traveled with U.S. officials and addressed the Italian National Government assisting in the creation of Nurse Education mandates for that Country. In 2006 he was invited and spoke with the National Institutes of Continuing Education in Eastern Europe on healthcare education and developmental mandates, and most recently represented the United States at the European Union in Lake Balaton, Hungary in 2011. In 2014 he traveled with the U.S. Department of State to Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam in an effort to improve caregiver knowledge and training.

Mr. Wolfendale has worked with a number of non-profits in contributing and creating curriculum to improve the quality of life in third-world countries since 2001, and notably created a successful program in Odessa, India that has been modeled in other areas of the world. In his backyard, he has worked with local Goodwill Industries to provide curriculum and training to underserved individuals who have obtained employment as a result of educational training. He was the Congressional appointment to the Governor's purple ribbon task force in 2013, and has worked to educate caregivers in all aspects of Alzheimer's training.