While babies and young children need many hours of sleep to support their growing bodies, many adults find that they sleep less as they get older — typically just 6.5 to 7 hours each night. Many people find that they spend less time in deep sleep, and have a harder time falling and staying asleep. You might need less sleep, but the sleep you get isn't always efficient.
Sleep Problems in the Elderly
Up to 40 percent of older adults deal with sleep problems. The most common issues include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and light sleep that is easily interrupted. In serious cases, older adults can become so fatigued that they are unable to stay awake for regular activities during the day.
While aging is linked to these sleep problems, it's also important to rule out other causes. Sometimes poor sleep is caused by medication or an underlying condition or illness, so your first course of action should be to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
Sleep Tips for Adults as They Age
If you're struggling to fall asleep, the first step is to practice good sleep hygiene. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. You'll also want to avoid naps if possible, and get an appropriate amount of exercise during the day so you feel tired at night. It's always a good idea to avoid caffeine and nicotine, both of which are stimulants that can keep you awake far into the night and alter your natural sleep cycle.
You can also try these tips to improve your odds of dropping off peacefully:
- Turn down the heat at night. Most people sleep best in a room that's 60 to 67 degrees.
- Use comfortable bedding. If your mattress is old or sagging, a new one will provide proper support and keep you from tossing and turning. Likewise, choose a supportive pillow and linens that feel soft to the touch.
- Increase your exposure to natural light during the day. Your circadian rhythms are ruled by the sun, so try to get outside in the afternoon as often as you can — or at least spend time in a room with lots of windows and natural light to help your body clock stay properly set.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime. Indigestion, heartburn and gas pains can keep you awake, so be sure to finish dinner 2 to 3 hours before your typical bedtime.
A Note About Nursing Homes
If you live in a nursing home, it may be more challenging to follow these tips. Speak to the staff about more comfortable bedding if necessary, and ask for help getting around to bright spots with natural daylight during the afternoon whenever possible. If you aren't able to fully turn out the lights in your room at night, a sleep mask may help preserve your natural rhythms. If noisy machines or neighbors interrupt your sleep, try ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones to block out extraneous sounds.
If you're struggling to get adequate rest as you get older, trying these things could make a big difference. Talk to your healthcare provider about additional options if these adjustments aren't enough. With the right support, you should be able to get a good night's rest, no matter how old you are.