Seniors and the Road to Quality Sleep

Quality, Not Quantity

The older we get, the harder it becomes to get a good night’s sleep. Beginning in our late 20s, there’s a steep decline in the amount of deep sleep we get each night – and by the time we reach 50, that amount is reduced by more than half. For older adults (65 years of age and older), getting adequate sleep can be an even greater challenge. Even if they reach the recommended 7-9 hours each night (a metric that, despite popular belief, remains constant throughout all stages of adulthood), it may not exactly be quality sleep.

Consequently, seniors may fall asleep earlier than usual, wake up in the middle of the night, or suffer from insomnia – all of which can negatively impact quality of life. In addition to making them tired and irritable, lack of sleep can lead to issues with memory and an increased risk of falling. But what makes sleep deprivation so prevalent in the senior population?

Factors that Impact Sleep Quality

We know that sleep plays a significant role in the regeneration of cells, but there is much about the process that remains a mystery. What is known, however, is that sleep occurs in stages and patterns – what sleep experts refer to as “sleep architecture” – which includes light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. The natural process of aging shifts this architecture so that there is more time in light sleep and less in deep, which is what causes older adults to wake up frequently throughout the night. This is also why they may find themselves napping more during the day. Adding to this, as we age our body tends to manufacture less of the hormones needed to regulate sleep, such as melatonin.

This light sleep is only made worse by the increased incidence of medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and arthritis – just to name a few. The pain associated with these conditions can easily disrupt sleep, as can the medications needed to help manage them. Seniors may also develop sleep disorders, chief among them being Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). This occurs when there’s an obstruction in the upper airway that momentarily stops the breathing process and lowers the level of oxygen in the blood. This then causes the brain to wake the body, pulling out of the sleep state. Those with OSA experience this multiple times throughout the night.

Ways to Improve Sleep

Although there are a number of factors that can influence a senior’s sleep quality, it’s important to remember that poor
sleep is not a normal part of aging. Seniors who experience the symptoms of sleep apnea or severe insomnia should consult a physician or sleep specialist. However, seniors can also take steps on their own to regulate their sleep-wake
cycle and get better rest at night.

  • Set a strict schedule and go to bed at the same time every day (including weekends)
  • Avoid napping throughout the day, if possible
  • Follow a daily exercise regimen, with approval from a physician
  • Spend time outside each day (at least 10-15 minutes) to receive some natural sunlight
  • Avoid caffeine and smoking 8 hours before
  • Avoid eating large meals or snacks before bed
  • Limit alcoholic beverages throughout the day, but avoid completely in the hours before bed
  • Make the bedroom a place exclusively for sleep, and ensure that the conditions are ideal for promoting quality sleep


Fast Fact

The average person will spend nearly 230,000 hours asleep throughout their life, which equates to about 26 years.

Comfort Keepers® Can Help

The average person will spend nearly 230,000 hours asleep throughout their life, which equates to about 26 years.

At Comfort Keepers®, we want to help preserve all areas of senior wellbeing. Our caregivers can help seniors follow the recommended steps that promote quality sleep and let the family know of any dramatic changes in sleep behavior. Contact a local Comfort Keepers office today to learn more about our in-home care services.

References: “Sleep Changes in Older Adults.” Web. 2017. “Do People Need Less Sleep As They Age?” by National Institutes of Health. Web. 2018.
National Sleep Foundation. “Aging and Sleep” Reviewed by Michael V. Vitiello, PhD. Web. 2009.

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