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Elderly woman suffering from a sleep disorder

Sleep Problems in Elderly Adults and How to Improve Sleep Quality with Age

The human body goes through many physical changes with age, but one change that isn’t discussed very much is sleep patterns. Older adults tend to have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep than when they were younger, yet sleep is so important for a senior’s overall health and wellness.

In this article, we’re exploring the possible reasons for sleep problems in elderly adults and sleep issue warning signs to watch for in a loved one. We’ll also address the topic of sleep aids for elderly people and suggest a few tips to improve sleep quality with each passing year.

Reasons for Sleep Disorders in Seniors

While experts believe that the process of aging itself does not cause senior sleep issues, illnesses and health conditions that appear later in life definitely have an affect upon sleep. Underlying medical issues are a major cause for sleep disorders seniors experience because certain conditions bring about discomfort and pain.

Other changes in senior sleep patterns include waking up frequently in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. Medications that seniors take may also prevent them from sleeping well at night. Warning signs of poor sleep to look for in a senior you love include sleepiness during the day, difficulty concentrating, feeling unrested in the morning, and overall fatigue.

Conditions That Lead to Senior Sleep Issues

There are many different medical conditions that can cause sleep problems in elderly people, including lung conditions that affect breathing, heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux, and osteoarthritis that causes joint pain in the middle of the night.

Both men and women may experience urinary tract problems caused by an overactive bladder or a prostate issue, leading them to wake up frequently to relieve themselves. Seniors who have mobility issues may experience pain and find it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS), and anxiety can all cause seniors to lose sleep and wake up feeling exhausted as well.

Sleep Aids for Elderly Men and Women

There are plenty of over-the-counter sleep medications available at your local pharmacy, but seniors should think twice about popping the first sleeping pill within reach. These types of medications can be risky for seniors and cause an array of unwanted side effects, including dizziness, poor balance, and daytime drowsiness.

It is very easy to become dependent on sleep aids for the elderly, and even natural sleep aids, such as melatonin, may interact adversely with prescription medications for diabetes and blood pressure. But depending on what is causing the sleep problems in elderly, a physician may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, iron replacement therapy for restless leg syndrome, or antihistamines for breathing troubles.

Tips to Improve Sleep Quality for Seniors

Seniors with sleep issues that get in the way of daily life may want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or at least try mindful meditation sessions to set their bodies up in a natural way for sleep. It is also a good idea for seniors to get at least a little exercise every day to promote good sleep. If an underlying medical condition is to blame for senior sleep issues, then perhaps a change in treatment should be discussed with the senior’s doctor.

At any age, it is important to stick to a routine sleep schedule to help the body’s circadian rhythms flow naturally. For better sleep, seniors should also limit their intakes of caffeine, reduce the number of daytime naps taken each day, and do something relaxing before bed like reading a lighthearted book or listening to soft music.