Sleep disorders can affect people of all ages, but they become more prevalent during your senior years, putting you at risk for a range of other mental and physical health issues.
While occasional sleep problems are common, insomnia or other abnormal sleep behaviors are a cause for concern. You can help combat them by identifying the root cause and implementing various natural remedies and routine changes.
Negative Impacts of Senior Sleep Disorders
It’s common knowledge that a chronic lack of quality sleep can negatively affect your physical, mental and emotional health. During sleep, the body has a chance to repair cell damage and refresh the immune system, subsequently building up your defense against disease and sickness.
For older adults, insufficient sleep puts them at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and memory problems. Additionally, you or your loved one may become more susceptible to daytime sleepiness and nighttime falls. Other more serious conditions that may result from insomnia and other sleep disorders include an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer.
In order to improve your quality of life, it’s important to get a good night’s rest on a consistent basis. If you're struggling to do so, the first step is identifying the underlying problem and then applying the appropriate treatment.
What Causes Insomnia in Older Adults?
In general, adults function best when they get an average of seven or eight hours of sleep each night. It’s normal for your body’s internal clock to evolve as you age, causing you to feel sleep earlier in the evening or to wake up earlier in the morning. Additionally, lower levels of growth hormone production lead to a decrease of slow-wave or deep sleep, resulting in less melatonin and more fragmented sleep.
However, there are a variety of more severe sleep disorders that can negatively impact your ability to feel truly rested. Insomnia, or difficult falling and staying asleep, is the most common, but seniors can also suffer from other sleep-related issues. Some of the main causes of sleep disturbances or insomnia in older adults include:
- A decrease in physical activity
- Simulants, such as caffeine and nicotine
- Frequent need to urinate throughout the night
- Pain and discomfort caused by health conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, osteoporosis, and nighttime heartburn
- Depression and severe stress
- Conditions affecting the brain and nervous system
- Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic diseases, such as heart failure
- Undergoing a traumatic experience
- Certain medications
What Helps Seniors Sleep Better?
If you want to improve the amount and/or quality of sleep you are getting, you must treat the underlying problem. For certain root causes—such as pain, medical conditions, or your medications—you should speak to your physician about making changes to your treatment plan. They may also recommend specific solutions to your sleep disorder.
In general, however, there are several preventative measures and routine changes that may help counteract the common causes of insomnia or sleep impairment in seniors:
1. Creating the Right Environment
The sleep environment you create and your pre-bedtime rituals can affect your rest at night. Make sure the bedroom in your assisted living housing is set up to be dark, quiet and comfortable. Install blackout shades or dark curtains if need be. Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature or turn on a fan, which can also produce helpful white noise. Try to avoid watching television or being on your computer at least 30 minutes or so before bed.
2. Mitigating Stress
If you constantly feel sad, anxious or stressed out before bed, incorporate a few habits to help you relax. For some seniors, yoga or meditation is a useful tool. It might also help to write in a journal to clear your head, or jot down notes for the next day if you’re worried about forgetting an appointment or important event. If you frequently feel lonely or isolated, schedule phone conversations and virtual get-togethers with loved ones for the early evening or plan to socialize with other residents on campus. Even just reading a chapter of a book, taking a bath, or listening to a calming song can create a soothing routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep.
3. Staying Active
Getting enough physical activity throughout the day is a common challenge for seniors. If you’re not exercising on a regular basis, you may struggle either with chronic lethargy or not feeling very sleepy at night. Physical activity also improves mental and emotional health and can counteract the negative effects of certain conditions, like menopause. Based on your interests and abilities, find a low-stress activity or exercise program you can do on a daily basis. Senior living communities frequently offer fitness classes and other activities to help you avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
4. Getting Proper Nutrition
The food and beverages you consume also influence your sleep patterns. Make sure you are full, but not uncomfortably stuffed, before bedtime. Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the late evening, as well as foods that might cause heartburn or indigestion. Dining on campus at your assisted living facility helps ensure you are consuming meals and snacks with nutritional content tailored for older adults.
5. Limiting Sleep Aids and Sleeping Pills
When it comes to treating insomnia in the elderly, you should avoid sleeping pills and other sleeping aids, unless prescribed by your doctor. They usually have numerous side effects and don’t actually address the root causes of insomnia. Additionally, they are not meant for long-term use.
Improving Quality of Life for Seniors in Federal Way
If you or your loved one struggle with sleep issues, talking with your doctor is a good place to start. Additionally, senior living communities in the Federal Way area are designed to support older residents by providing a safe, secure environment where their every day needs are met. At Village Green Retirement Campus, we not only offer comfortable housing accommodations but also indoor and outdoor amenities, events, and fitness programs to keep you physically and mentally active during your senior years.