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Aging and sleep: seniors sleeping

Aging and sleep are one of the most crucial topics for seniors. But why do so many people experience insomnia in elderly? After all, older people need as much sleep as any other adult, around 7 to 9 hours[1]. So what happens with aging and sleep? What kind of biological changes is responsible for this problem? 

In this article, you will find everything there is to know about aging and sleep, body changes and health problems that have a significant influence on the older people sleeping habits, and how prescription medication can influence aging and sleep, and, of course, tips to help you sleep better. 

Now, let's move further into the article to get all the information you’re interested in.

Katie Letourneau

Adult & Pediatric Sleep Consultant

What changes happen in our sleep patterns when we age?

As we age, our sleep patterns change in response to the biological and hormonal transitions that occur within our bodies. It is not uncommon that as you age, you find that you sleep in shorter increments, but have a need to sleep more frequently, as the amount of sleep you need within a 24 hour period, with it being 7-9 hours for most adults, doesn’t change for much of your adult life.

Aging and Sleep: Introduction 

It is known that up about 50% of the elderly experience the lack of sleep[2] or so-called insomnia. Knowing that sleep is one of the major aspects of our day and older people have a variety of other health issues, it’s obvious that sleep can increase those problems and even cause accidents due to the day time drowsiness. 

Since various biological changes are happening as we get older, it gets more and more challenging to get the needed amount of sleep.

So, let’s move further and talk about the biological processes that are happening in your body and what is normal in the elderly.

Sleep in the Elderly: What is Normal? 

If you think that it’s not normal that your sleep patterns in the elderly age are changing, then you’re wrong. As difficult it can be to accept the truth, many biological changes are happening in our bodies. And those changes are responsible for the disruption of normal sleep patterns in the elderly. 

What is more, the circadian rhythm can change the sleep-wake cycles, it also influences other major aspects of senior lives, such as digestion, body heat, and so on. But getting back to the topic, the disruption of the circadian rhythm are inevitable as we age. So you might wake up much earlier in the morning or not be able to sleep during the night. 

Another factor that hugely influences insomnia in the elderly is a prescription medication. The majority of the elderly people take medicine when they cannot fall asleep; but in the long run, those pills make an impact on older individuals’ bodies and interfere with their sleep. 

Major Changes in Sleep Cycle

Aging and sleep: sleep as you age

As we age, crucial changes are happening in sleep architecture, so the sleep-wake cycle becomes disrupted. Therefore, you can no longer experience the same quality as sleep at a young age. Of course, since every person is different, the changes in their sleep differ too. Not every aging person experiences insomnia, some of them go through excessive sleep in elderly.

Now let’s discuss the major changes that are related to aging and sleep.

To get a full understanding, let’s briefly discuss the sleep cycle. There are a few stages of sleep you go through the night, including light sleep and deep sleep when you don’t dream, and of course, active dreaming. It is known that one sleep cycle takes 90 minutes, so, during the night you go through a few sleeping cycles. 

Moving to aging and sleep, these sleep cycles tend to disrupt. Older people have a harder time falling asleep, they tend to wake up at least a few times during the night and in the morning. 

It’s also known that elderly people experience much less time having a dreamless, deep sleep[3]; they tend to be more sensitive and wake up faster due to certain stimuli. Of course, even if older people need a similar amount of sleep as adults, they usually sleep around 6 hours, however, they spend more time in bed trying to fall asleep.

Therefore, sleep cycle in elderly disrupts and can be most noticeable in frequent waking up during the night, inability to have a deep sleep and difficulty to fall asleep. 

Sleeping Disorders that are Associated with Elderly 

Aging and sleep: insomnia

While the majority of seniors experience insomnia in the elderly, many individuals go through excessive sleep, especially daytime sleepiness. Let’s take a look into both of them.

Insomnia in Elderly

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders experienced not only in the elderly but also by young people. The research[4] that was carried out in 2018 shows that 205 million people aged 60 years or older experience insomnia. And this number keeps growing. This problem is often associated with the disruption of the sleep cycle in the elderly. 

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Excessive Sleep in Elderly

It is known that excessive daytime sleepiness[5] is often experienced in the elderly. This problem is associated with sleepiness, lack of concentration, and drowsiness during the day. It’s especially dangerous for seniors who move a lot and drive a car because excessive sleep in elderly can cause fallings and car accidents. So, it’s essential to be careful; if you feel dizziness or sleepiness never drive a car. 

Therefore, the main problems that are associated with aging and sleep are insomnia and excessive sleep. The majority of seniors find it difficult to fall asleep, have several awakenings during the night, and wake up early in the morning; however, due to these problems, they also experience excessive daytime sleepiness. 

Can Prescription Medication Change Sleep Habits in the Elderly? 

Aging and sleep: sleep cycle

When it comes to aging and sleep, it’s already known that the elderly find it difficult to fall asleep at times. The majority of them take sleep medications in order to get that needed rest. 

Therefore, aging and sleep are widely related to the medication. It’s not a secret that seniors often take prescription medication to sleep better or get some sleep at all. However, the minority of people speak about the negative impact sleeping pills have on health. 

While medication might seem the easiest way, you should know that it’s not the best option. Prescribed medication does not treat insomnia in elderly, but there are a few more aspects that you should consider. 

First of all, even if the sleeping medication seems like the only thing that works, after using them for a long time, they become not as effective or shortly said, you get used to them. So, every time you want to fall asleep, you think about the need for medication, which means you no longer try to sleep naturally. 

Secondly, similar to other medications, sleeping pills have side effects. The most crucial one is the lack of concentration, which can create many accidents, such as falling during the day and even car disasters. You may have noticed that many vehicle incidents are caused by the seniors 65+ years. 

Furthermore, sleeping pills can have such side effects as changes in your appetite, dizziness, dryness in mouth and throat, lower blood pressure[6], diarrhea and burning or tingling in legs, feet, hands or arms. 

Therefore, there are so many side effects that can be caused by sleeping pills, so before using any medication, talk to your doctor, he will introduce you with potential side effects and other possible threats you should be aware of. 

But despite the fact that you’re using any medication at the moment or planning to, you can try a few sleep aids for elderly, which I provided in the further section. It may help you to avoid the usage of any drugs, so why not consider them? 

Aging and sleep: senior sleeping

Aging and Sleep: Sleep Aids for Elderly 

As I told you already, I want to introduce some sleeping tips, which may be not only helpful for elderly but also for young people and adults who are suffering from insomnia. 

Here they are. 

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Find the Comfortable Mattress

Majority of people think about aging and sleep problems as an inevitable process, but why not make this time less stressful and more comfortable? Finding the right mattress should improve the sleep quality of older people as beds nowadays have such qualities as pain and pressure relief, perfect conforming. 

Therefore, the quality mattress would be not only comfortable but also beneficial to people who have seizures or pains due to old age. It could have a major impact on your sleep. 

Now, since I told you that a new mattress can be one of the most effective sleep aids for elderly, let me introduce you to the mattress types and provide you with some options. Here are the most common mattress designs you can choose from:

  • Memory foam mattress - for those who need perfect comfort and body conforming. These mattresses are one of the most popular options in the market as they tend to be inexpensive, serve you for at least seven years, and provide you with pain and pressure relief.
  • Innerspring mattress - for those who are looking for support. Due to the airflow in the coils, these mattresses manage to maintain the neutral body temperature throughout the night. So, innerspring mattresses are also great for hot sleepers. 
  • Latex mattress - adapts to your body, similar to the memory foam mattress. They’re best known for durability and comfort. Latex mattresses also offer amazing conforming, and they are more bouncy than foam mattresses.

Of course, there are even more options in the market, but these mattresses are known to be the most comfortable ones, especially for older people, who need to get quality sleep. 

Create Your Sleeping Routine

Aging and sleep: sleep schedule

While creating your sleeping routine may not sound like an effective way to improve your sleep, you would be surprised how amazing it works. Here are a few things you can try: 

  • Exercise. Activities can help to improve your sleep and provide you with a number of other benefits. Note that I’m not speaking about complicated exercises, even walking outside can help you.
  • Fewer naps. Make sure you’re not taking a lot of naps. Even people who are not suffering from insomnia find it more difficult to fall asleep during the night if they take even a short nap. But if you feel tired and know that it’s impossible to wait the entire day, then try to take a nap before 3 p.m for less than an hour.
  • Before-bed routine. While preparing to go to bed, try to repeat the same steps every day, such as reading a book, listening to calm music or meditating. This way you will signalize to the brain that it’s time to go to sleep.
  • Stay healthy. Try to eat clean and minimize your caffeine and alcohol intake. It’s not only beneficial for your health but also improve the quality of your sleep.
  • No TV in bed. The bed should be associated with sleep, but when you watch TV, eat and sleep in the same place, your brain can create other associations, which will distract you from sleeping.
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time. It might sound difficult, however, when you create routine, your brain gets used to specific actions at the same. So, when it’s time for sleep, your brain will be prepared.  Note that these tips are great not only for insomnia in elderly but also for younger individuals. 

Conclusions

So, sleep in elderly, what is normal? By now, you already know that seniors experience sleeping disorders quite often. Majority of them find a hard time falling asleep as well as feel sleepy during the day. 

The main reason why older people experience insomnia is the changes in their circadian rhythm, which can change the sleep-wake cycles. So, older people wake up more times during the night and experience less deep sleep than younger individuals. They’re also affected by medication, which can change sleeping habits and become the only way to get quality sleep. 

However, the elderly have other options, which do not include medication, such as finding the most comfortable mattress, creating a sleeping routine and staying healthy. This way, there’s a chance to avoid drugs. 

Therefore, as promised, I explained everything there is to know about aging and sleep, insomnia and excessive sleep and many other aspects that are relevant to seniors.  So, if you’re suffering from similar issues, you already know, which actions should be taken.  

Katie Letourneau

Adult & Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Contributed By Katie Letourneau, Adult & Pediatric Sleep Consultant

As an adult and pediatric sleep consultant, Katie works collaboratively with adults who are struggling with sleep challenges and families whose babies and children's sleep issues significantly impa...

Read Full Bio...

Scientific References

Contributed by Katie Letourneau, Adult & Pediatric Sleep Consultant

1. Jean-Philippe Chaput, Caroline Dutil, and Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga: 'Sleeping hours: what is the ideal number and how does age impact this?'

2. Jana R. Cooke and Sonia Ancoli-Israel: 'Normal and Abnormal Sleep in the Elderly'

3. Bryce A. Mander, Joseph R. Winer, and Matthew P. Walker: 'Sleep and Human Aging'

4. Dhaval Patel, Joel Steinberg, and Pragnesh Patel: 'Insomnia in the Elderly: A Review'

5. Isabelle Jaussent, Jean Bouyer, Marie-Laure Ancelin, et al.:'Excessive Sleepiness is Predictive of Cognitive Decline in the Elderly'

6. Nobuo Sasaki, Saeko Fujiwara, Ryoji Ozono, et al.: 'Lower blood pressure and smaller pulse pressure in sleeping pill users'



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Recent User Reviews

Take care of your health!

This is a common issue with people aged 50 or elder so meds are popular solution. But some people don't even know that before taking medications they should consult with a doctor. Take care of your health!

Poor sleeping environment

The reason may be not only change in the body with age, but also a poor sleeping environment. I agree that we should start with small tips and only then think about taking pills.

6 hours

Usually I sleep around 6 hours and it is definitely not enough. I hope your advice can help me

Good tips!

Good tips guys

I dont know

I dont know... I know naps during the day are healthy, but because of this habit I can't stabilize my sleep schedule, Should I get rid of them at all?

Medications

My grandma has insomnia and the only things that really helps are medications. I know it is not a good choice, but we have no other options.

I like it

I like the article. thanks!

Quality of sleep

Hello, With time our quality of sleep become worse. We must value sleep more.

so bad

insomnia is the worst

Very detailed.

Very detailed information good, everything is explained in a clear and simple way

Simple

The more active you are during the day, the easier and more comfortable your sleep!

Aging person

Not every aging person have insomnia btw, some of them have excessive sleep

Good topic

This is a big problem for many people. Thank you for writing on such an important topic.

Good one

Good one!

Thank you

Thank you for the useful tips. Love it

question

I noticed that with time I wake up more earlier. Is it also a sign of sleep disorder?

....

I'm not an aging person although I still waking up frequently during night......

Sleep disorders in elderly

From my own experience - sleeping pills have way too much side effects - especially for aging people.

Advice

Sleep medication is the most effective way, but it shouldn't be abused. U just cant use it all the time!! Don't take it

should help

comfortable mattress should help

FAQ

How many sleep does a 70 year old need?

All adults should have 7 or 8 hours of quality nighttime rest. However, as we age, the disruptions in our sleep cycle lead to frequent waking ups and very little deep sleep.

What helps seniors sleep better?

Seniors who suffer from the inability to fall asleep should avoid daily naps, eat nutrient-rich fruits, get enough heart-healthy fats and drink warm liquids. You should also set your bedroom environment and even try aromatherapy before bed.

What is a memory foam mattress?

Memory foam mattresses are created mostly from polyurethane and have additional chemicals added that increase its viscosity and density. It’s also often called “viscoelastic polyurethane foam”. In order to create the air movement and let your body “breath” while you sleep, it has open foam bubbles. Memory foam mattresses are created in a way to adapt to your body curves and to also recover their original shape after you get up. Therefore, this kind of top mattresses offer you the feeling as if is created specifically for you.

Do top rated mattresses offer a money-back guarantee? Is there a catch?

All of the top mattress brands offer a money-back guarantee. The free trial usually starts from 90 to 100 nights, and if you don’t like the mattress, you can simply give it back. The majority of best mattress providers will not only give your money back but will also come to get it for free. If the mattress provider is reputable, there won’t be any catch - everyone understands that you have to try the mattress before knowing if it fits you.

What is off-gassing? Is it poisonous?

Off-gassing refers to the odor which comes from a new mattress. It’s the process that happens when volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) leak out of the mattress foam into the air. Those chemicals include both human-made and natural components, including formaldehyde, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), benzene, trichloroethane, and perfluorocarbons. Top rated mattresses will have zero or very minimal off-gassing. Many of them are sent to the customer already after the off-gassing. Is it dangerous, though? Even though the smell can be unpleasant, there’s usually only a very small amount of chemicals that can do no harm to your health.

How long do top rated mattresses serve?

The durability of a mattress depends on the provider and the quality of the materials used. Usually, you get a 10-year warranty, which will be valid in case of any defects. Normally, mattresses will serve you from 7 to 10 years, or even longer. Thus, when you buy the best mattress, you should take it as a long-term investment.