Courtesy of Lisa Smalls
Elderly people in our world deserve the best in their golden years, including the best sleep. Unfortunately, it gets harder to sleep well as we age. Seniors are more likely to struggle falling asleep, staying sleep and sleeping deeply enough—they also suffer from age-specific sleep problems—than any other age group.
Seniors, you are not destined for poor sleep. We will explain how to attack your sleep issues and come out the other end rested and refreshed for another day on earth.
The good news for senior citizens here is that most sleep issues the elderly might face can normally be tracked back to physical (soreness, osteoporosis, arthritis, restless leg syndrome, insomnia) and psychiatric illnesses (depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease) and the medications doctors use to treat them.
Thankfully we’re not usually talking about issues that do require medication to alleviate. But our older friends should discuss their sleep issues with doctors and family members to address them.
Also, did you know our sleep patterns change as get older? Our internal clock, which tells us when to rest and when to wake up, actually shifts as we age. Seniors tend to want to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier.
But our need for sleep, once we reach adulthood, does not change. Popular belief is misinformed. How much sleep we actually need to heal and feel fully restored each morning does not decrease with age. All adults—defined as anyone age 18 or over—need 7-9 hours per night.
And we’re all human. We have habits that hinder our sleep.
One sleep thief is the food we eat or drinks we imbibe. Eating too close to bedtime means our bodies are still working to digest as we’re trying to wind down for the day. Drinking alcohol may relax your inhibitions, but it doesn’t ease you to sleep.
Sleeping in a room that is too warm will keep you up. Seniors do get colder because often they don’t move enough to keep the blood circulating. But sleep scientists recommend sleeping in a room cooler than 70 degrees. Your body temperature will regulate to a good temperature once it begins the hard work of repairing itself as we sleep.
Sleeping in a room with too much light definitely robs you of good sleep. The artificial blue light behind our smartphones, tablets and televisions is the worst offender. The light artificially signals your brain that it must stay awake. You must keep those devices in other rooms at bedtime, ideally starting two hours before bedtime.
Ironically not getting enough natural sunlight during the day also slows the process of falling asleep. Seniors may not be mobile enough to go outside. It may be dangerous for them to do so without help, or they may not feel safe enough to do it where they live. Without at least two hours of natural sunlight per day, your circadian rhythm gets confused. You end up not feeling ready for bed once it’s time.
Another problem related to mobility is that seniors may not get enough exercise each day. Whatever you can do to get your heart pumping, based on your physical ability, will burn fuel. Burning off some during the day, eases you to sleep at night.
Finally, the wrong mattress or a too-old mattress will definitely keep you up at night. You toss and turn because your body isn’t comfortable. Any mattress that throws your spine out of alignment or puts too much pressure on delicate joints and muscles needs to be replaced.
Tools for better sleep
It starts with the best mattress, that you can afford, that works for you. Because there is a very competitive marketplace for mattresses these days, you have so many mattress options to choose from that will address whatever issues you have.
Younger adults usually do well with a medium-firm mattress. Medium-soft mattresses are better for seniors, who need a little more give, something more gentle to curve to older shoulders and hips. The important thing is that your spine remains aligned straight regardless of your sleep position.
For example, If you sleep on your back, that area of the mattress should not cave against your weight. That would put your tailbone and lumbar vertebrae out of alignment with the rest of your spine. If you are bothered by back pain, choose a mattress designed to alleviate it.
Now that you’re equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be on your way to better nights of sleep.