Tips for Better SleepTips for Better Sleep

You may think you can get by on less sleep as the years pass, but don’t be fooled. According to the National Sleep Foundation, older adults need as much sleep as people in their twenties and thirties, but as we get older, medical issues can make getting the rest we need more of a challenge. Poor quality sleep can cause or worsen health conditions, so getting the best possible rest is important.

We’ve already talked about the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep at any age. If those tips don’t improve your sleep, it’s time to look at particular issues that seniors often face.

Muscle and joint pain

Better-sleep strategies vary by your pain’s cause. For sore muscles, gentle stretching or using a foam roller before bed can reduce overnight discomfort. A nest of supportive pillows can keep your back and neck aligned properly for more comfortable rest. Regular massages can loosen up muscle knots, too. If your pain is due to arthritis, follow your medication and exercise regimen carefully, and let your doctor know if pain interferes with your rest.

Hot flashes and night sweats

Night sweats can spoil sleep as your body goes from feeling like a furnace to chilled and clammy. Make sure your bedroom is cool enough and use breathable sleepwear and bedding. If night sweats are a regular event, or if they come with a fever or unusual weight loss, talk to your doctor to pinpoint the cause. This may take a while, as nighttime overheating can be a symptom of many disorders and illnesses, from menopause to some rare types of infection.

Heartburn and reflux

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and sleep problems are often partners in sleep-robbing crime, with acid reflux causing nighttime pain and some sleep medications worsening reflux symptoms. Doctors often advise not eating 3 hours before bedtime, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, and possibly raising the head of your bed on risers to get some help from gravity.

Restless limbs

The need to move your arms or legs when you rest can deprive you of sleep. Recommended remedies include daily gentle exercise and a reduction in caffeine. If the fidgety feeling is chronic, the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation recommends keeping a sleep diary to share with your doctor. There are effective medications for RLS, and an accurate sleep log allows your doctor to choose the best treatment for you.

Shortness of breath or snoring

Snoring, waking up feeling as if you were choking, and chronic exhaustion may be signs of sleep apnea – short interruptions in breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea can also mimic dementia symptoms and can make existing dementia and other health conditions worse. A night in a sleep lab can determine whether you need a CPAP machine to pace your nighttime breathing.

Trouble staying asleep

A typical senior sleep scenario involves waking before dawn, unable to go back to sleep. One possible cause is advanced sleep phase syndrome, an unusual condition more common in older people that occurs when a person’s daily sleep cycle moves earlier, so that he or she feels tired much earlier in the day but wakes earlier as well. The problem is that many people don’t adjust by going to bed earlier, so they end up chronically tired. If you find yourself waking earlier than you used to, see if going to bed earlier helps.

Sorting out sleep issues can take time and some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort. A good night’s sleep sets the stage for healthier, more enjoyable days ahead.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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