Insomnia and other sleep disorders are relatively common amongst seniors. Some seniors may struggle to fall asleep whereas others wake up throughout the night, neither of which are healthy or give one a sense of being well-rested. Thankfully, there are good ways for seniors to improve their sleep without pills.
According to Dr. Philip Hagen, MD, one of the most common sleep changes that adversely impact seniors is waking up more frequently.
Often these changes in our nightly routine occur due to discomforts associated with aches and pains or just needing to use the bathroom more frequently. Additionally, as people age, it is not unusual to spend less time in REM sleep; this is the phase in which we dream.
There are numerous ways to improve one’s sleep through sleep aids, supplements, or alternative methods. Though many prescription medications and supplements work, more and more people are looking for alternative means to improve their quality of sleep.
There are numerous reasons why someone is looking for different sleep aids, not in the form of a pill, such as:
- Possible adverse drug interactions with sleep aid medications or supplements
- Unwanted side effects of sleeping pills
- Already on sleeping pills but would like additional options
- Prefer natural methods over pills
Though some may believe seniors require less sleep, that isn’t true. Seniors, just like all adults, need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Without adequate sleep, seniors may begin to experience unfavorable effects on their mental health like:
- Depression or anxiety
And seniors who do not get adequate sleep are more prone to accidents and suffer from a lowered immune system.
Thankfully, there are several ways seniors can improve their sleep without pills. In this article, we will cover a variety of methods that can help improve the quality of sleep and techniques to help you combat insomnia.
Though it is common to experience sleep disorders as we age, it is always worth discussing with your doctor if alternative methods or supplements are not helping. Severe insomnia may require prescription medications, or there may be an underlying health issue such as sleep apnea that is impacting the quality of your sleep.
If you have tried various methods without improvement for two to three weeks, it is time to contact your doctor.
Ways Seniors Can Improve their Sleep Without Pills
- Create a Safe and Comfortable Sleeping Environment
- Create a Bedtime Routine
- Keep to a Sleep Schedule
- Exercise and Stay Active
- Tips to Fall Asleep Faster
- Tips for Better Sleep
- Things to Avoid
The best thing about using alternative sleeping aids is that you can implement multiple practices without worrying about side effects. And it is worth pointing out that these methods are easy, rarely require you to buy anything and will not add more significant stress into your life.
Create a Safe and Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Maybe you’ve heard this before, but don’t fully understand what it means. Sure we all have a comfortable bed, pillow, and blanket, but creating the right sleep environment means so much more.
First, make sure that your bedding is appropriate to the season and is comfortable. As we age, people’s ability to withstand cold may diminish, so throwing on flannel sheets in the winter may create a more restful night’s sleep. And vice versa in the summer, flannel sheets may be soft and comfortable in the winter, but they can be the cause of an unpleasant night’s sleep in warmer weather.
Second, be sure your mattress is flipped or replaced as needed—most mattresses only last 5-10 years. Plus, as we age, our bodies are unable to tolerate the same pressure as when we were younger, so it is essential your bed is a good fit.
Third, check your thermostat; the optimal temperature range for sleeping is between 65°-72° Fahrenheit. Because your brain has an internal thermostat, significant changes in your body temperature can cause you to wake up, interrupting what could have been a good night’s sleep. But keep in mind that there are exceptions to the range, you must find the temperature that best suits your comfort.
Fourth, anxiety is a significant factor that impedes one’s ability to fall asleep. Thankfully, creating a safe sleep area can help you to overcome many of these anxieties, allowing you to fall and stay asleep easier.
- Set a phone with emergency phone numbers on your nightstand
- Have a lamp within easy reach so you can turn it on quickly, touch lamps are a great solution
- Put a bottle of water on the nightstand next to the bed in case you wake up thirsty
- Check all of the locks on doors and windows before bed
- Check and replace batteries in smoke alarms regularly
- Remove tripping hazards such as rugs or shoes in case you need to get out of bed in the middle of the night
Fifth, create a dark space, a small dim nightlight is fine, but light disrupts your natural sleep pattern.
Create a Bedtime Routine
Creating a routine before bed helps your quality of sleep in two ways, first, it helps your mind and body to unwind, and second, it helps to relieve stress and anxiety.
Although many people picture retirement as stress-free, nothing could be further from the truth. Seniors often experience similar, if not greater, levels of stress and anxiety. Harvard Health reports that as we age, coping and managing stressful situations becomes more challenging.
A bedtime routine should include:
- Setting an alarm
- Preparing for tomorrow
- Create a to-do list for tomorrow – it will keep you from dwelling on the things that you need to get done.
- Set out clothes or other items you need if you have an early morning – For example, you go to the gym every morning to walk the track and do some strength training. Take the time to pull together your gym clothes, bag, and water bottle, so it is all set to go.
- Manage your stress; for some, that means journaling, reading a good book to unwind, practicing meditation exercises, or doing bedtime yoga. Also, taking a warm bath helps relax your mind and muscles, and upon getting out of the tub makes most people very sleepy.
Keep to a Sleep Schedule
It is not unusual for retirees to ditch their alarm clock after they’ve retired, which often leads to sleep disorders. Creating and sticking to a nighttime routine is key to overcoming sleeping disorders, including insomnia. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day regardless of season, day of the week, or where you are, such as when traveling.
As reported by the University of Michigan Health, your body’s natural internal clock is disrupted by a lack of a consistent sleep schedule resulting in your mind and body experiencing similar effects to jet lag.
Remember, your sleep schedule needs to allow for 7-9 hours of sleep, so if it takes 15 minutes to fall asleep, allow for that time in your routine.
Exercise and Stay Active
After we retire, our days can become less active, which may seem like a good thing, but can also significantly impact our sleep and sleep routine. If we haven’t adequately stimulated our mind and body, we will not feel as tired as we should come bedtime.
After you settle into retirement, if you find yourself with too much free time, there are endless activities to fill your day such as:
- Getting involved at your local community or senior center
- Setting up a standing date with friends
- Taking up a new hobby
And not only is exercise a great way to stay healthy, but it will also help you sleep better. A minimum of 30 minutes a day is all you need, but more won’t hurt either. Exercise can come in many forms; it doesn’t have to be spent on a treadmill, (unless that’s what you want) maybe try:
- An exercise class at the senior center
Not only is exercise good for your body, but it also is one of the best stress relievers.
Tips for Falling Asleep Faster
- Listen to meditation exercises for better sleep
- Try talk therapy – Recent studies show that talk therapy has proven helpful for reducing the symptoms of insomnia
- Count to or back from 100
- Play mind games such as think of an animal for every letter in the alphabet starting with A
- Try listening to soothing sounds, not music, such as rain or the ocean
- Tip – set it to a sleep timer, so that it shuts off after a specified time
- Put a notepad and pen in your nightstand drawer for those things that pop into your head that you don’t want to forget. Writing these thoughts down helps to get them off your mind allowing you to fall asleep
- When getting ready for bed use dim lighting instead of the overhead light
Tips for Better Sleep
- Use the bed exclusively for sleep or sex. Watching TV, eating, or spending time on the computer will train your brain that the bed is a multipurpose area and not associated with relaxing.
- If you have recently been put on a new medication check to see if any of the side effects include insomnia or other sleep issues
- Talk with your doctor to better manage nighttime pain
Things to Avoid
There are several things you can do to help you sleep better, but there are some things that if you avoid can be equally helpful.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol intake before bed – It might initially make you tired, but once it wears off, it will likely cause you to wake. Additionally, alcohol may increase your need to use the bathroom and will not allow you to have as restful a night’s sleep.
- Reduce or avoid drinking coffee later in the day – at least eight hours before bedtime
- Avoid all beverages two hours before bed
- Avoid eating large meals, spicy, heavy, or fried foods before bed – These can make falling asleep more difficult and may cause discomforts such as stomach upset and heartburn.
- Avoid exercise three hours before bed
- Minimize nap time to 20-30 minutes a day before and avoid napping after 4 PM
- Avoid watching TV or other screen time before bed – The light from electronic devices may impede your ability to fall asleep. Additionally, watching the news or stressful TV show or movie may cause you to tense up