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Seniors And Sleep

About one third of seniors in Canada report getting less than the recommended 7 hrs of sleep. One third of seniors reported difficulty staying awake during normal waking hours “sometimes/most of the time/all of the time”. At ages 65 to 79, men and women who slept the recommended amount reported more refreshing sleep and less difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep, compared with those who slept fewer hours than recommended. As well, senior men and women who slept more hours than recommended reported less trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, staying awake and more refreshing sleep, compared with seniors who slept less than recommended.

Considering the above mentioned statistics, if you or your loved one is over age 65, it is likely that not getting enough sleep is a very common complaint. Seniors typically take longer to fall asleep, and often wake up during the night numerous times.

How can you tell if you are NOT getting enough sleep?

You probably aren't getting enough sleep if you experience any of the following:

- getting tired earlier in the evening

- waking up very early in the morning

- waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep

- suffering from insomnia, which is a condition that makes it hard to fall asleep and/or stay asleep.

How much sleep do seniors really need?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), suggests seniors can remain healthy with less sleep than the general population. So, while the average amount of required sleep is about seven to nine hours nightly, some sleep experts say that about 7 and a half hours of sleep is adequate for seniors.

What are the side-effects of not getting enough sleep?

Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of falls, balance disorders, and accidents in seniors. Research also indicates that too little sleep contributes to an increased appetite and weight gain. While many senior adults struggle with depression and anxiety, those without these conditions are more prone to developing them if they don't get enough sleep.

Why do seniors have trouble sleeping?

Seniors often experience changes in their sleep-wake cycle. These changes can be caused by normal age related changes in the body (decreased production of melatonin - the sleep hormone), lifestyle (smoking, drinking alcohol, caffeine) or other health conditions. Certain medicines can make it hard to sleep. Dealing with pain can also keep you awake. Some seniors develop sensitivity to environmental factors affecting sleep such as noise and light.

Certain diagnoses like sleep apnea, diabetes, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) and prostate issues can make it difficult for seniors to get enough sleep.

How to practice good sleep hygiene

If you think you are not getting enough sleep, try practicing good sleep hygiene. It might help you fall asleep faster and maintain the quality of sleep you get. Here are some things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene:

- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day

- Don't nap for extended time periods during the day

- Do not read, watch TV, or eat and drink in bed

- Try to be physically active every day. Exercise can help you sleep better

- Avoid caffeine (energy drinks, coffee, tea) for about 6 hours before bedtime

- Avoid nicotine (smoking, gum and patches) and alcohol in the evening. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night

- If you have been trying to fall asleep for more than 30 mins, get out of bed and try to do something calming like reading or listening to music. Try not to stimulate your brain by solving crosswords or playing sudoku etc. Then, go back to bed and try to sleep.

When to see your doctor about sleep issues

If you have been practicing good sleep hygiene, and still experience sleeplessness, you should consult with your doctor.

Compared with 18 - 64 year olds, a larger percentage of seniors (about 15%) slept longer than the recommended 8 hour maximum. Long sleep duration in the elderly can signal a need for medical, neurological, or psychiatric evaluation.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms. They may also run a couple of tests to diagnose a sleep condition if needed. If your doctor thinks you have a sleep disorder they will prescribe medications or treatments to help you sleep.

If you are on prescription medications, always ask your doctor if sleeplessness is a side-effect of one of your medications. Also ask if trouble sleeping is one of the symptoms of a disease or disorder you have been diagnosed with.

Many people who have trouble sleeping turn to natural remedies such as Melatonin and Valerian Root. Always check with your doctor and/or pharmacist before trying a natural sleep remedy to make sure they do not interact with your other medications.

I can imagine how challenging it can be for someone to carry on with their life while dealing with sleep disorders. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by providing you with information about your condition, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.


Healthcare Consultant, in4MED


Duration and quality of sleep among Canadians aged 18 to 79

Are you getting enough sleep?

The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.

*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.

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