The Ultimate Sleep Guide for Seniors & Elderly Canadians
It's a popular belief that seniors & elderly Canadians need less sleep than the average adult.You may think that's true because - as Canadians age - they tend to wake up earlier and more frequently through the night. But that's not because their bodies needs less sleep as they age.
In actuality, they require about the same amount of sleep as anyone, which is around 7 - 9 hours a night.
But why else would they get up so early if they’re not well rested?
The problem is, many seniors don’t get enough sleep because of insomnia.
Fortunately, there are many preventative measures seniors can act on to enjoy sleep safely, from lifestyle changes to sleep products.
But first, it’s important to understand how sleep changes with old age and what causes senior insomnia.
Causes of Insomnia in Seniors & Elderly Canadians
Insomnia is prevalent among seniors, as many as 50% of older adults complain about difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, with women older than 45 years old are 1.7 times more likely to suffer from insomnia than men.
Fortunately, it’s usually easier to isolate the causes of insomnia in the elderly.
More than 90% of the time, a senior’s insomnia is due to one of these reasons:
There are certain biological changes that make sleep more difficult as we age.
Older adults can experience a shift in circadian rhythm that causes them to become sleepy in the early evening, this is known as an advanced sleep phase.
This leads them to naps, which only makes it harder to fall asleep at night - creating a vicious cycle.
Elderly individuals’ lack of work schedule and meal times due to retirement can also further contribute to insomnia.
The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea because the muscles that control breathing begin to atrophy with old age and weaken.
As a result, those muscles are less equipped to keep your airways open.
A senior who thinks they may be suffering from sleep apnea should consult a doctor immediately.
For women transitioning into menopause, sleep problems are often par for the course.
In fact, around 61% of women who are postmenopausal experience frequent bouts of insomnia.
Hormonal changes, mood disorders and hot flashes are the common reasons why menopausal women are less satisfied with their quality of sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
It’s a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually because of an uncomfortable sensation.
Typically, it happens during the evening or nighttime when you’re sitting or lying down.
The syndromes can often worsen with age.
Illnesses & Pain
Of course, it’s hard to sleep when you’re in pain or discomfort.
More than 80% of older adults with knee pains said they have trouble staying asleep. And approximately 37 - 50% of people with type 2 diabetes have sleep problems.
This creates a vicious cycle, because sleep is healing and a serious medical condition is unlikely to improve if the person isn’t sleeping well.
Through the aging process it’s normal for our sleeping patterns to alter.
But it’s important to practice healthy sleep hygiene to ensure a good night’s sleep no matter your age.
11 Tips That Can Help Seniors & Elderly Canadians Sleep Better
If a senior’s insomnia is caused by underlying stress, grief, worry - even worry about their insomnia itself - therapy can help.
Seniors can also engage in other activities such as yoga, meditation or visualization.
Wake up and sleep at the same time
Train the mind and body to follow a sleep schedule, by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
Seniors should follow this schedule religiously, even on weekends.
Exercise physically tires the body and keeps seniors in good physical health. Seniors should aim to exercise every day. If possible, pair the exercise with an outdoor activity.
The natural sunlight received will help reinforce the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, so they’re prone to sleep when it gets dark out.
Get natural sunlight
Besides exercise, getting natural sunlight in the morning helps energize the body and mind, resetting the circadian rhythms.
It is well established that the circadian rhythm is strongly influenced by exposure to light.
Increase exposure to natural light during the day and early evening is an effective way to establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
If going outdoors is physically tasking, exposure to a light therapy box for around 30 minutes can also help get the circadian rhythm back on track.
Seniors with advanced sleep phase syndrome can spend more time getting natural sunlight in the afternoon to help them stay awake for longer.
Keep the bedroom dark, cool and quiet
The ideal sleeping environment is one that’s cavelike. Set the bedroom thermostat to somewhere in the mid-60s degrees Fahrenheit and remove ticking clocks or anything noisy.
In total darkness, there’s less for a restless mind to worry about and communicates to the brain that it’s time to sleep.
Napping during the day will likely lead to difficulty falling asleep at night.
If they are absolutely fatigued, limit the nap to 20 minutes, between 10am and 2pm.
This is short enough to keep you from entering deep sleep, so when you wake up you’ll feel refreshed.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Both caffeine and alcohol are substances that can disrupt sleep.
Caffeine is a stimulant and if taken in the late afternoon, can keep seniors up past their bedtime.
And while alcohol’s immediate and short-term effect is drowsiness, it disrupts the sleep cycle, causing people to wake up in the middle of the night.
Limit liquids in the evening
Nighttime bathroom trips are a major cause of sleep disruptions for seniors.
To avoid being woken up by their bladder, seniors should limit the amount of fluids they drink at night and go to the restroom right before bed.
Eat a light snack before bed
A light bedtime snack containing the right nutrients can help calm the body, relax and promote better sleep.
Fruits such as bananas, rich in potassium and magnesium, can relax muscles and calm the nervous system.
Apples, apricots and peaches also contain plenty of magnesium.
For more ideas, check out our Quick & Easy Recipes to Help You Sleep blog.
Choose a better mattress
A good mattress can go a long way to help seniors who experience chronic and frequent pain in their neck, shoulders, back and hips.
A memory foam mattresses that can conform to the body will help align the spine and alleviate pain and pressure points, while the high density layers prevent them from sinking too deeply.
Many seniors, especially those experiencing menopause, prefer mattresses that absorb minimal body heat and promote cooling sleep.
Talk to a doctor
Please consult a doctor if a senior is still experiencing significant sleep problems even after implementing behavioural tips and sleep aids listed above.
Seniors and their caretakers must be made aware that insomnia is not a part of normal aging and sleep deprivation will have significant negative impacts on their health and quality of life.
It’s important to encourage loved ones affected by insomnia to seek medical help.
Everyone deserves a good night’s sleep.
Change is inevitable with age and the same goes with your mattress.
With the right mattress, you can enjoy better quality sleep and in turn, improve your health.
Our memory foam mattress combines support, comfort and a design that gives you the perfect night’s sleep.