Occasional sleepless nights shouldn’t be a cause for worry, but if you find that your senior loved one is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night, you need to take notice.
While insomnia is common in senior individuals, the consequences can be serious, considering their age and health condition. Don’t let sleepless nights take a toll on your loved one.
Read these 5 tips to help seniors sleep better:
1. Treat Underlying Problems
While older adults often suffer from primary sleep disorders, make sure that your senior loved one isn’t experiencing secondary sleep disorder. This is when an underlying medical condition contributes to disrupted sleep. Treating the main health problem can automatically improve sleep!
Also note that certain medications might have side-effects that contribute to insomnia, so speak to a medical practitioner or pharmacist for guidance.
Here are some common health conditions that can affect sleep patterns in older adults:
• Acid reflux, which can cause heartburn
• Painful health conditions such as arthritis
• Depression, anxiety, or other mood-related health conditions
• Neuro-degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s/dementia, Parkinson’s
• Heart and lung conditions like a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that affects breathing
• Frequent urination and other urinary issues due to an overactive bladder or enlarged prostate
2. Establish a Bedtime Routine
Establishing a routine and following it religiously can train the body into preparing itself for sleep. Bedtime routines can be as simple as changing clothes or brushing teeth before bed. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day also helps.
Promote sleep with these tips:
• De-stress techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises can calm the mind and help enter transitional sleep.
• Make the sleep environment comfortable- for example, dim or turn off the lights. The senior might benefit from using positioning pillows, earplugs, a white noise machine, or an eye mask.
• Engaging in calming activities before bedtime can help improve sleep. Seniors can listen to soothing music, take a warm bath or shower, or read before dozing off. Bear in mind that reading a thriller will not aid sleep.
3. Avoid Sleep Wreckers
Sleep can also be hugely affected by pre-bedtime habits, activities, and eating patterns. Be mindful of these following tips:
• Heavy meals and spicy foods for dinner can cause heartburn and lead to disturbed sleep.
• Drinking more fluids at night will lead to increased frequency of urination, thereby disrupting sleep.
• Switch off blue-light sources like the computer, TV, and mobile phones at least an hour before bedtime.
• Alcohol can induce sleep, but it actually interferes with sleep cycles. So limit alcohol intake for seniors around bedtime.
• Artificial light can suppress the production of melatonin (sleep-inducing hormone) in the body, so use low-wattage bulbs where possible.
• Caffeine and other types of stimulants, like nicotine, are fine so long as consumed early in the day. Seniors should avoid stimulants for at least 3 hours before their bedtime.
4. Improve Nutrition
Slowed metabolism, changes in appetite and the digestive system, emotional issues, etc. are all responsible for affecting the dietary needs of older adults. Seniors need to eat a diet that is rich in nutrients while being easily digestible. Eating a healthy diet can not only ward off common health problems but also help calm the mind and body.
Here’s a list of some sleep-promoting foods:
• Healthy fats like avocados and peanut butter.
• Complex carbohydrates as found in sweet potato and whole grains like oatmeal. These are rich in tryptophan.
• Dried fruit, nuts, and seeds like dates, almonds, peanuts, sesame, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are rich in tryptophan.
• Fruits like bananas, apricots, and peaches are rich in potassium and magnesium. Bananas are rich in tryptophan too, which the body converts into serotonin and melatonin, promoting sleep.
• Lean protein is another source of tryptophan. Avoid overdoing, though; remove the skin before cooking meat and choose grilling, poaching, or steaming meats over frying, in order to keep the fat quotient balanced.
5. Engage in Daytime Activity
Leading a sedentary and isolated life can cause depression and add to the stress, both of which can interfere with sleep. On the other hand, staying socially active can keep the brain stimulated and make life-enriching for older adults. Further to this, the increased social activity involves physical movement. Even if the senior person’s activity is limited to getting up and moving about, it is certainly better than doing nothing at all.
Getting out of the house during daytime for a walk or light shopping is a great way to get some sunlight and fresh air! While it boosts mood, sunlight also helps regulate melatonin, which in turn controls sleep-wake cycles. Most importantly, engaging in physical activity can wear out the senior person, promoting restful sleep at night. Seniors should make sure they aren’t over-exerting themselves.
With the detailed tips given here, we’re sure you’ll be able to take the right course of action to relieve your senior loved one of their sleep troubles. Remember to consult a medical practitioner first to rule out underlying illnesses, and especially before stopping or substituting prescription drugs.