Sleep patterns naturally change as you get older. Compared
to younger people, older adults:
- Sleep fewer hours and take longer to fall
- Sleep less deeply and wake up more often during the
- 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 do not 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 at any age. 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
Tips for improving sleep for older adults
Here are some things you can try:
- Get regular exercise and sunshine during the
- Keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark in the evening and
- Keep food and snacks out of the bed, if
- Get out of bed if you are unable to
sleep, and do a quiet or boring activity until you feel sleepy.
- Limit or reduce the need to wake up at night, such as for
- Follow the same evening and bedtime routines.
If you care for an older adult who isn't sleeping well, you
might encourage him or her to try the above tips for improving sleep.
taking sleep medicines only now and then or only for a short time. They are not
the first choice for treating chronic insomnia. This advice about medicines
applies to everyone, but especially to older adults. Anyone can become dependent on sleep medicines, and these medicines can affect how
well older people think during and after long-term use.1
Sleep Problems, Age 12 and Older
Martin JL, et al. (2007). Sleep disorders. In RJ Ham et al., eds., Primary Care Geriatrics: A Case-Based Approach, 5th ed., pp. 391–400. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.