How to Ensure Seniors Are Getting Good Quality Sleep

Sleep, diet, and exercise are the three pillars of health, but as we age, it can become more difficult to get the good quality sleep our bodies need. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to a whole host of physical and mental health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression.

For seniors especially, getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night is a critical component of overall health and well-being. So let’s dive into the importance of good sleep for seniors and look at actionable ways you can help ensure your senior loved ones are getting the restful sleep they need.

Why is Good Sleep So Important for Seniors?

As we age, our sleep patterns can change dramatically. Former night owls can become early birds who wake up at the crack of dawn, and we might find ourselves lying in bed night after night, unable to fall asleep, or waking up frequently throughout the night. But despite these changes — and our bodies’ apparent insistence otherwise — a regular good night’s sleep is just as important when we’re 70 as it was when we were 30.

Sleep is when the body works to repair itself, bolster the immune system, and process the day’s memories. For seniors, a good night’s sleep is linked to improved concentration and alertness, a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, better mood regulation, and even a reduced risk of falls.

In addition, quality sleep is thought to help prevent cognitive decline. Studies suggest that deep REM sleep plays a role in clearing the brain of amyloid plaques, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Challenges to Good Sleep for Seniors

There are a wide variety of reasons why seniors may be unable to get a good night’s sleep, including:

  • Medical conditions: Pain, prostate or bladder issues, sleep apnea, and side effects from medications can disrupt sleep.
  • Mental health issues: Anxiety, depression, and stress can make it harder to fall or stay asleep.
  • Lifestyle and environmental factors: Lack of exercise, poor diets, excessive napping, and uncomfortable sleep environments can all affect sleep quality.
  • Long-standing habits: Seniors who have spent decades waking up early every day for work may find themselves unable to sleep in once they’re retired, even if they’re now staying up later at night.

How Families and Caregivers Can Help

There are some key steps you can take that have been shown to improve sleep quality. If your senior loved one is having a hard time falling or staying asleep, you can start by:

Establishing a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day helps regulate the body’s internal clock, which, in turn, regulates the hormones responsible for sleepiness and wakefulness. Daily exposure to sunlight can also help the body maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.

Non-digital activities like reading, taking a warm bath, listening to music, or meditating before bed can help seniors wind down and prepare for sleep as well. And while napping can sometimes be beneficial, long or late-in-the-day naps can hinder nighttime sleep, so keep naps short and early.

Creating a Restful Environment

For the majority of people, a room that’s cool (60-68°F), dark, and quiet is ideal for sleep. Blackout curtains, sleep masks, earplugs, and white noise machines are all useful tools to help block out light and sound disruptions. Make sure the bed is comfortable and appropriate for their needs, and keep the room free of excessive clutter and lights from digital devices.

Promoting a Healthy Diet and Exercise

A balanced diet and regular physical activity can significantly improve sleep quality, while a poor diet and inactivity can have the opposite effect. There are plenty of exercises even seniors with low mobility can do to help increase and maintain their activity levels, and physical activity can also help reduce stress that may lead to sleepless nights.

Heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol can also disrupt sleep, so they should be avoided in the late afternoon and evening.

Consulting Their Doctor

Chronic sleep issues can sometimes be caused by a medical issue, like sleep apnea or pain, so don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one’s doctor if their sleep issues persist. Depression, anxiety, and stress can affect sleep as well, so you may also want to reach out to a mental health professional.

Keep in mind that while sleep medications can be helpful in some situations, they can also pose risks for seniors, including increased risk of falls and confusion. They should be used cautiously and only under the guidance of a doctor.

Caring for Your Loved One — Night and Day

Good quality sleep is one of the keys to a healthy, happy life, so it’s important to make sure your senior loved ones are getting the restful sleep they need. But most of us can’t be there for our loved ones 24/7 to make sure they’re taking care of every aspect of their health and well-being.

If you need help caring for your senior loved one, Right Hand Senior Care offers affordable, compassionate in-home care designed to meet your family and loved one’s needs. For more information on our services or to set up a care plan, contact us today.

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