Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of night and can't fall back to sleep? Do you nap during the day to make up for a poor night's sleep?
If so, you're not alone. Poor sleep habits are one of the most common problems that affect people. And good sleep becomes more of a challenge as you get older.
Sleep and aging
As you age, your sleep habits change. People 65 years and older often:
- Have trouble falling asleep
- Are unable to stay asleep
- Wake up early
Why can't older adults sleep well?
Changes in your sleep-wake cycle are normal as you age. Older adults tend to get tired earlier at night and wake up earlier in the morning. They may sleep lighter and wake more frequently. If you do not adjust your sleep schedule for this change, it can make for a poor night's sleep.
Everyone needs a good night's sleep regardless of their age. There are a number of medical problems and medication issues that can disrupt your sleep, too. If you have trouble sleeping, first check with your doctor to make sure there's not an underlying health problem that needs treatment. For example:
- If pain, restless legs, prostate or urinary problems keep you up, doctors can evaluate the problem and prescribe medications or recommend other treatments to help.
- If medications are causing poor sleep, your doctor might be able to change the dose, type or timing of your medicine.
- If heart or breathing problems are causing poor sleep, call your doctor right way.
Seniors who do not sleep well are at risk for:
- Attention and memory problems
- Daytime drowsiness
- Falls during the night
- A poorer quality of life
10 Tips for sound sleep
Many people have trouble falling asleep because of poor sleep hygiene practices. Sleep hygiene means the personal habits and environmental factors that affect your sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Your body gets used to a sleep pattern. Even if you are retired, try to get up at the same time each day, weekends included.
- Do not take naps. Napping can interfere with sleep. If you must take a nap, limit it to 20-30 minutes and do it early in the day.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy or sugary foods 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. These foods and beverages may stimulate you, making it harder to fall or stay asleep.
- Don't eat big meals or drink a lot late at night. A large meal may cause indigestion, which could interfere with sleep. If you drink a lot close to bedtime, you may need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
- Do not exercise within 3 hours of bedtime. Regular exercise is great, but doing it close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Have a light snack close to bedtime. Try warm milk or a banana.
- Relax before bed. Practice deep breathing exercises, take a warm bath or do other activities that help you unwind before bedtime.
- Don't lie in bed awake. If you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes, go to another room and do something else until you feel tired. Do this if you wake up in the middle of the night, too. Let your body associate the bed with sleeping and sex only. Keep computers, televisions and other distractions out of the bedroom.
- Invest in a good mattress and pillows. Your comfort is a top priority for good sleep.
- Make sure your room is dark, quiet and cool. Sleeping may be hard if your bedroom is too hot, noisy or bright.
Be wary of sleep aids
Some sleep aids can be bought over-the-counter. Others are only available by prescription. Before you try any over-the-counter sleep aid, check with your doctor. These drugs should only be used for a short time under the guidance of your doctor. They may interfere with other medicines that you are taking or with certain medical problems you might have, including glaucoma, heart disease and lung problems. Sleep aids may also have side effects that can include dizziness, confusion and urinary problems.
Hypnotic drugs are a type of sedative that are used to help people sleep. These are available only by prescription.
Hypnotics often have side effects. Some can be dangerous. Side effects may include:
- Slower reaction times
- Tolerance, so you need more of the drug over time to get the same effect
- Complex sleep-related behaviors such as sleep eating or sleep driving
- Severe allergic reactions or facial swelling
- Decreased dreaming and deep sleep
- Increased awakening when sleeping
Certain sleep aids have other side effects. Check with your doctor to learn more.A good night's sleep is important for your health. If these sleep hygiene tips do not work for you, ask your doctor about other options.
Created on 03/20/2009
Updated on 06/08/2012
- National Sleep Foundation. Napping.
- National Institutes of Health. Power nap: Prevents burnout; morning sleep perfects a skill.
- National Sleep Foundation. Healthy sleep tips.
- National Institutes of Health Senior Health. Sleep and aging frequently asked questions.