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Coping With Changing Sleep Patterns as You Get Older

Overview

Sleep patterns naturally change as you get older. Older adults often have ongoing sleep problems. Compared to younger people, older adults:

  • Sleep fewer hours and take longer to fall asleep.
  • Sleep less deeply and wake up more often during the night.
  • Have more trouble adjusting to changes in sleeping conditions, such as a different bed.
  • Have changes in their sleep cycle. Older adults spend less time in the most restful stages of sleep.

It's common for older adults to sleep less deeply and for less time than they did earlier in life. But these normal changes in the sleep patterns of older adults don't mean that the sleep they get is enough.

Routine poor-quality sleep caused by health problems, medicine use, and stress from major life changes can lead to chronic sleep problems. This may increase the risk of serious health problems, such as depression. But few older adults get, or try to get, treatment for sleep problems. If you are an older adult and have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about what you can do to improve your sleep.

Tips for better sleep

Here are some tips that may help you sleep more soundly.

  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Use curtains, blinds, or a sleep mask to block out light. To block out noise, use earplugs, soothing music, or a "white noise" machine.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. You might want to take a warm shower or bath, or listen to soothing music.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night. And get up at the same time every morning, even if you feel tired.
  • Get regular exercise. Figure out what time of day works best for your sleep patterns.
  • Get outside during daylight hours. Spending time in sunlight helps to reset your body's sleep and wake cycles
  • Avoid drinking any liquids before going to bed to help prevent waking up often to use the bathroom.
  • If you can't sleep, get up and do a quiet or boring activity until you feel sleepy.

Credits

Current as of: March 1, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Mark A. Rasmus MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine