Sleep problems can affect anyone, but older people are more vulnerable to this than others. A good night’s sleep is something that many of the elderly can only dream of. Not only is falling asleep difficult but staying asleep isn’t much easier. This can lead to the type of daytime fatigue that can be so overwhelming that taking part in day-to-day activities becomes difficult and dozing starts being the norm.

Unfortunately, speaking to a GP about this problem can often result in a prescription that should help but, instead, causes side effects and can also become habit-forming. A better option is to learn to recognise the signs of sleep problems, what might be causing them and, more importantly, what simple changes might be made that can improve sleep quality.

What type of sleep problems plague the elderly?

Frequent waking in the night, light sleep and daytime fatigue increase as we get older. Whilst many older people do struggle with poorer sleep compared to other adults, you may notice that these issues are becoming more acute. They can lead to increased drowsiness during the day, increased forgetfulness and even a greater degree of clumsiness.

Complaining about poor sleep is something that many older people talk about but very few of them actually have a diagnosable sleep disorder, and certainly nothing that requires some form of prescribed sleep medication.

What can cause sleep issues?

There are a number of things that can cause sleep problems in the elderly. Some will be easy to recognise, others less so. Worrying is one significant factor that can hamper sleep, as is not being active enough during the daytime and just sitting around. Too much caffeine close to bedtime or too much alcohol can also contribute to sleep issues. It is important to try to resolve the issues because good quality sleep is necessary for overall health and sleep is particularly important for heart health.

What might improve sleep?

One of the best ways to improve sleep and reduce sleep problems is to take a look at correct ‘sleep hygiene’. This is the term used for the daily routines that can help promote a good night’s sleep. It could include:

  • a regular bedtime
  • a room that isn’t too warm or too cold
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals late in the evening
  • taking gentle exercise but not too close to bedtime.

These are all things that you could look at as part of establishing a good sleep routine.

It is essential to remember, however, that as people get older it is natural for their sleep patterns to change. Because these happen naturally there should be no requirement for any form of sleep medication as this can lead to other issues. It is far better to look at natural ways in which sleep problems can be alleviated.