How to combat insomnia in older people

Everyone sometimes has a bad night’s sleep, but for some, insomnia is a serious issue and one which can have serious consequences. Insomnia is more common in older people and is often debilitating, as it can go on for days, months or  years. If normal sleep patterns are disrupted,  it can affect memory and cause depression, anxiety, irritability and many other problems.

Sleep changes as we age

Sleep requirements  change with age. Babies sleep for about sixteen hours out of every twenty four, adolescents need nine hours, but sleep in later and adults need between seven to nine hours each night. As we age, however, we often wake earlier and go to sleep earlier.

Quality is as important as quantity when it comes to sleep. Older people tend to sleep less deeply and for less time. |There are also two types of insomnia: inability to get to sleep and inability to stay asleep.

What causes insomnia?

  • Stress: Work pressures, bereavement, divorce, moving house etc. can all have an effect on over-working your mind so you cannot switch off
  • Poor Sleep Hygiene: temperature, bedding, lighting can all affect your ability to get to sleep and to stay asleep
  • Irregular sleeping routine: can affect your ability to fall asleep
  • Stimulants: Coffee, tea, chocolate and smoking can all inhibit sleep
  • Alcohol: Alcohol initially promotes sleep, but later fragments it
  • Age:the brain’s internal clock shifts to an earlier sleep cycle
  • Medication: can have significant effects on sleeping, particularly if you are taking multiple prescriptions
  • Pain: physical discomfort will inhibit sleep
  • Urination: as we age, we need to go to the toilet during the night, which wakes us
  • Snoring: this disrupts your sleep and that of your partner

How to tell if you have insomnia

  • Does it take you longer than 30-45 minutes to fall asleep when you go to bed?
  • Do you wake often in the night?
  • Do you wake up very early and struggle to go back to sleep?
  • During the day, do you feel tired or exhausted?
  • Are you irritable?
  • Do you find it difficult to concentrate?
  • Do you find it difficult to remember things?

If you’ve answered yes to most of the above, you may well be suffering from insomnia

How to promote better sleep

  • Try to get into a good routine with a regular time to sleep and wake up
  • Exercise during the day, preferably in the morning and avoid exercise for a few hours before you go to bed
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark enough
  • Make sure the bed and bedding is comfortable
  • Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold
  • Take a warm bath or shower before bed to relax
  • Avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol for at least three hours before bed
  • Avoid heavy meals before bedtime
  • Try not to sleep or nap during the day
  • Try not to watch television in bed or use phones or tablets, as they prevent the mind from switching off
  • Try to avoid sleeping pills and never take them without advice from your doctor
  • Practice mindfulness to calm your mind
  • And counting sheep can help!

It is worth talking to your doctor if insomnia persists to discuss underlying causes and discussing how you might break the pattern.


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