Sleep changes as we age. Older adults may experience difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. And sleep quality may be diminished, as seniors spend less time in deep sleep and have more fragmented sleep.
Common causes of sleep problems for seniors include mental issues such as struggling with loneliness and grief, stress, depression, anxiety, or physical issues including chronic health conditions, prescriptions, a sedentary lifestyle, and menopause.
But like anyone else, seniors need good sleep. Sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on emotional and physical health. Chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of serious health conditions and cause issues for emotional well being. Seniors who are sleep deprived may struggle to regulate emotions, crave junk food, and may be a greater fall risk.How a Healthy Sleep Environment Can Help Seniors
Sleep environment is an important component of overall sleep health. When seniors have a healthy place to sleep, it's easier to get the rest they need to function well.
A senior's bedroom should be safe, quiet, comfortable, dark, and cool, which offers the ideal environment for sleep. That's not always easy, especially in a treatment or nursing home setting, but there are things you can do to make any environment better for seniors to sleep in.
- Safety: Safety should be a primary concern for senior sleep environments. Minimize fall risk by keeping floors clear of clutter, cords, even rugs that could be tripped on. Though bright light can interfere with sleep, a soft night light can illuminate pathways safely and effectively at night without causing sleep issues. Motion activated lights can be helpful. If wandering is a problem, seniors should wear a medical alert device. Exterior doors and windows should be closed and locked.
- Quiet: A quiet environment is peaceful and easy to sleep in. However, seniors may not live in a quiet environment. In a hospital or nursing home, monitors, ambient noise, visitors, and other sounds may interfere with sleep. In this case, it can be helpful to set limits on access hours, and use a white noise machine to drown out disruptive sounds.
- Comfortable: Comfort can be an issue for seniors, especially if they spend much of their time in bed. When using an adjustable bed, make it easy for seniors to adjust to what makes them comfortable. During the day, the bed can be elevated to more of a sitting position, while it can be lowered to a more flat sleeping surface at night.
- Dark: Like quiet, darkness may be hard for seniors to come by. But dark curtains can block out window light. It may be helpful to use a sleeping eye mask at night to reduce light exposure.
In addition to a healthy sleep environment, it's essential to address serious sleep concerns. When seniors struggle with sleep on a regular basis, it could be a chronic sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea. Talk to a doctor about treatment options including cognitive behavioral therapy or a CPAP machine .
- Cool: Seniors should be kept cool at night. Adjust the thermostat lower at night, and make sure they're dressed in comfortable, breathable clothes and sleep on a mattress and sheets with good airflow.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org.She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.