Senior Sleep Disorders – How to Manage and Improve the Quality of Sleep?

As we grow older, our sleeping patterns tend to change. These age-related changes often result in fragmented sleep and waking up early. We might start getting drowsy earlier at night than usual, or experience less deep sleep. All this is a part of the aging process, but there are some factors that can add up.

Sleep disturbances are not uncommon in older adults. They can be related to the use of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, or unhealthy sleep habits. Still, there are some symptoms to be aware of that are a sign of sleep disorders and are not considered to be a regular part of aging.

Health Conditions That Can Disrupt Sleep

Some sleeping issues seniors experience can be a result of certain medical problems. Elderly people are more prone to health conditions such as diabetes, so examining the underlying cause is the first step.

Common medical conditions related to interrupted sleep include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Cardio-respiratory conditions that affect breathing, such as heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s

In these cases, treating the primary disease usually solves the problem and allows your older relative (or yourself) to get a good night’s sleep.

It’s worth mentioning that people battling with dementia and Alzheimer’s often experience sleep disturbances. Sleeping difficulties and shifts in the sleep-wake cycle, like waking up more frequently or staying awake longer during the night, are widespread in patients affected by these diseases.

If you’re taking care of elderly parents, whatever the root cause of their poor sleep is, it’s best to install a reliable, easy-to-use system inside their home. This will ensure their added safety and your peace of mind, as they will be able to get immediate help in case of a medical emergency.

Primary Sleep Disorders


Insomnia is described as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep despite adequate conditions to do so. This is one of the most common sleep disorders, both in seniors and in the general population.

According to some studies, more than 50% of older adults suffer from this disorder. What’s even more concerning, these individuals are often underrecognised and undertreated.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Other Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders

These disorders are characterised by abnormal respiration during sleep. In a person with OSA, the upper airway can be partially or completely closed or blocked.

This leads to disturbed breathing, but also to a number of cardiovascular diseases if left untreated. Check out our previous article about how to find out the symptoms of OSA.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder

A person with this disorder acts out their dreams, including talking, shouting, or even walking

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

This sleep-related movement disorder can be described as an urge to move the legs and feeling abnormal sensations in one’s legs. All these issues usually result in sleep-onset difficulties and/or sleep maintenance problems.

Improving Sleep Hygiene

Improving sleep hygiene is the essential first step to solving any kind of sleep-related issue – the idea is to create routines to establish a healthy sleep schedule and environment. More importantly, this approach is risk-free as it doesn’t require taking any medication.

To develop good sleeping habits, follow the tips listed below:

  • Increase physical activity. Adding regular exercise to one’s daily routine might help with sleep issues. Workouts must be age-appropriate and tailored to the elderly person’s overall health.
  • Minimise tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol intake, as these substances tend to disrupt sleep.
  • Stick to a regular daily routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can contribute to a good night’s sleep. Bear in mind that afternoon naps make falling asleep at night more of a challenge.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment. Make sure that the bedroom is comfortable, dark, and quiet. A quality mattress, soft pillows, and cozy bedding can help create a pleasant sleeping environment. Use a thermostat set to 15-19°C, as this is proven to be the optimal temperature conducive to good sleep. The bedroom should be a place of serenity and calmness.

Encouraging a Better Night’s Sleep

There are some more steps to take to improve sleep quality. Still, keep in mind that these changes might take up to six weeks or more.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) This form of psychotherapy addresses worries and negative thoughts, as well as other behaviors that disrupt sleep. CBT-I can be more effective in treating chronic insomnia than sleeping pills. Even better, it comes without the risk of side effects.
  • Boost melatonin levels. The bedroom should be a device-free space since blue light from different screens makes it harder to fall asleep. Artificial lights can get in the way of your body’s production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Melatonin supplements are also an option.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Meditation and progressive muscle relaxation have a calming effect and can prepare a person for a good night’s rest.

Medical Treatment

In certain cases, prescription drugs might be a necessary approach to age-related sleep problems.

Consider using sleep medication when all other non-drug coping strategies fail or disruptive nighttime behaviors persist. Although insomnia meds may bring some relief, they pose a serious risk of falls and fractures in the elderly population. For this reason, it is advisable to stop using sleep-inducing medication once a regular sleeping pattern is established.

All in all, whether you’re trying to find a solution for your own sleep issues or a senior relative’s, we all need to bear in mind that when someone complains about sleep problems, they should be taken seriously. Identifying underlying problems is essential for tailoring proper treatment.

Generally speaking, although there are different treatment options for managing and improving the quality of sleep among older adults, it’s always best to first try out the ones that don’t include medication.


Images: Photo by omar alnahi from Pexels and Unsplash



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