Best practices for better sleep for seniors

Pardon the pun, but it’s a subject not to be taken lying down. In the same way good hand-washing hygiene helps prevent colds and flu, proper “sleep hygiene” contributes to a better night’s sleep—and ultimately better health.

While traditional health wisdom has always touted the benefits of getting enough sleep—along with a healthy diet and exercise—science now backs that up. For older adults, a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke, along with improved memory and a myriad of other benefits, all come with quality sleep.

But for some seniors, sleep can be elusive. In fact, a 2017 U.S. National Poll on Healthy Aging found almost half of adults aged 65 to 80 reported they regularly had difficulty falling asleep. However, what was most concerning to the physicians involved in the study was that 41 per cent of respondents didn’t know why they were having difficulty sleeping, and very few reported their concerns to their doctor. That could be because more than 50 per cent of the individuals believed that poor sleep was a normal part of aging.

“We know that sleep is a critical factor for overall health as we age, and this new research highlights sleep problems as both a significant health issue for older adults and an underacknowledged one both by patients and their providers,” said Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for the American Association of Retired Persons (a co-sponsor of the National Poll). “We need to help people understand that lack of sleep is not just a natural part of aging.”

Keep in mind that changes in sleeping patterns are normal as we get older, but if any of these changes—such as lack of sleep—begin to affect your health, then it’s suggested that you talk to your doctor. If you aren’t sure if you have a sleep issue, this quick questionnaire from Harvard University’s Division of Sleep Medicine can help during your appointment.

For anyone who wants to improve their sleeping habits, these physician-endorsed sleep hygiene tips for seniors may help:

1) Don’t take naps longer than about 20 minutes during the day

2) Don’t read, watch TV, or eat in bed

3) Avoid caffeine for about eight hours before bedtime

4) Avoid nicotine and alcohol in the evening. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it can cause you to awaken in the middle of the night

5) Don’t lie in bed for a long time trying to sleep. After 30 minutes, get up and go to a different room. Do something quiet, such as reading or listening to music. Don’t do anything that stimulates your brain. Then, go back to bed and try to fall asleep

6) Try to be active each day. Exercise can help you sleep better

7) Ask your doctor if any of your medicines could be keeping you awake at night