A 2022 Sleep Guide Made Just For Seniors (Includes Facts About Aging & Sleeping)

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sleep guide for seniors

Health, as they say, is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind, and spirit. One of the requirements of being healthy is getting a sufficient amount of sleep which is vital in repairing the heart and blood vessels. It is also essential in energy regeneration.

On the contrary, sleep deficiency can have detrimental effects on one’s body. Not getting the right amount of rest can lead to:

  • Increased Risks Of Heart Disease 
  • Kidney Disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke

As people get older, it is unavoidable to experience changes in sleeping patterns. If you have a senior in your family, you might have asked yourself:  how much sleep does a 70 year old need?

Bodily changes as people age can have many effects on sleeping habits. This is believed to be brought about by the side effects of prescription medications and some chronic diseases. Many studies have found that older people are likely to suffer from sleep deficiency. They only sleep for 7 hours or less, while 8 hours is the ideal amount of sleep. 

Take a super senior, for example, a 92 year old sleeping all the time isn’t surprising. You might see them nodding off in the middle of a meal or, conversely, you may hear them puttering about at night, seemingly unable to sleep. This type of sleep behavior isn’t uncommon among older people. In fact, the older people get, the more prone they are to sleeping disorders.

Sleeping disorders are categorized into two kinds:

  1. Dyssomnia
  2. Parasomnia

Dyssomnia is a type of sleeping disorder that involves difficulty in falling and staying asleep, which leads to excessive drowsiness during the day. Insomnia and sleep apnea are examples of dyssomnia. 

On the other hand, Parasomnia is a sleeping disorder characterized by abnormal and disturbing behaviors that occur while you are going to sleep, during sleep, or upon waking up. Examples of parasomnia are sleepwalking and night terrors.  

This guide aims to tackle examples of dyssomnia and parasomnia disorders that people of old age commonly suffer. Its causes, impacts on health, and conventional treatments will be included in this article as well.

Insomnia In the Elderly

Insomnia, possibly the most known sleeping disorder, is common among older people. 

It is defined as:

The inability to fall asleep and difficulty staying asleep on a nightly basis causing chronic sleepiness during the day. 

Approximately 50% of seniors in the United States have insomnia. 

Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Taking over 30 minutes to fall asleep.
  • Waking up too early or in the middle of the night.
  • Inability to fall back asleep and exhaustion during the day. 

Symptoms may vary between people.

People showing initial symptoms will be diagnosed with ‘short-term insomnia’. Should it persist for more than a month, doctors will diagnose it as ‘chronic insomnia’. There are two general types of insomnia; 

  • Sleep onset– the difficulty in falling asleep.
  • Sleep maintenance– the difficulty in remaining asleep and waking up in ungodly hours.   

Insomnia may be diagnosed as primary or secondary. 

  • Primary insomnia is insomnia that arises independently. 
  • Secondary insomnia, on the other hand, is insomnia that can be attributed to various psychological causes. 

insomia on seniors

Most physicians believe that insomnia that the elderly suffer from is secondary insomnia brought about by side effects of prescription medication and some medical conditions. 

Adults commonly suffer from insomnia because, as people age, their sleep architecture changes. Studies found that for every decade of life, the amount of REM sleep declines by 10 minutes per night. Another reason why older people have insomnia is their difficulty with thermoregulation. 

Thermoregulation is the ability of one’s body to maintain core temperature. Thermoregulation can affect sleep patterns. When a person’s temperature rises, he wakes up, and when his temperature lowers, he begins to feel exhausted.

Chronic diseases can also cause people to suffer from insomnia. It includes respiratory problems, neurological disorders, heart failure, cancer, bladder issues, and gastrointestinal conditions. Psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety, have also been associated with insomnia. 

Most seniors tend to take naps during the daytime. Some older folks also spend relatively more time in bed, causing them to rise early. These habits of older adults reportedly can aggravate the effects of insomnia as it can alter their sleeping architecture. 

Persistent insomnia can have severe consequences like;

  • They become prone to accidents because of their exhaustion and lack of focus;
  •  They also tend to be unproductive;
  • Consequently, they become cranky, irritable, and temperamental; and
  • If left untreated, insomnia can cause serious mental problems.

Sleep Apnea

Another common dyssomnia sleeping disorder that elderly adults suffer from is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by loss of breathing while asleep. Such a halt in breathing could go up to 60 seconds. If a person gets a full night’s sleep and still feels tired after that, he is likely suffering from sleep apnea.

Obstruction Sleep Apnea or OSA

This is a classification of the disorder that affects breathing by blocking the airway. OSA is deemed to be a determinant of coronary artery disease. It is also linked to illnesses like hypertension, heart failure, and stroke. OSA is more common among the two types of sleep apnea on the elderly.

Central Sleep Apnea or CSA

This is another classification caused by wrong coordination of breathing muscles and the brain. CSA is also associated with heart failure. 

The following are the most common symptoms of sleep apnea;

  • Loud snoring;
  • Gasping for air; 
  • Waking up with dry mouth;
  • Morning headache;
  • Daytime drowsiness;
  • Lack of focus; and 
  • Irritability. 

People with sleep apnea should also be worried about cardiovascular disease. The two conditions often simultaneously occur in one patient. Older people with one of the two states are likely to get the other.


Narcolepsy is another dyssomnia disorder characterized by exhaustion and desire to sleep during the day. This can develop sleep attacks, a condition where one spontaneously falls asleep irrespective of time and place. A diagnosis of the disorder is uncommon at any age. Still, for the individuals vulnerable to it, symptoms usually begin to show in mid-late teen years and become worse with age. The secondary peak of the disorder often happens at age 45-60.

The most common symptoms of narcolepsy include;

  • Hallucinations;
  • Loss of muscular functions; and
  • Sleep paralysis
seniors sitting on chair

Restless Leg Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Restless leg syndrome is a dyssomnia disorder common to seniors where they experience itch feelings in their skin accompanied by physical pain. Such sensation comes about around bedtime and can cause insomnia. 

Another dyssomnia sleep disorder that seniors also suffer is the Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. This shares the same symptoms with restless leg syndrome. The only difference between the two conditions is that periodic limb movement disorder only occurs during sleep, causing disruption.


Snoring is a parasomnia sleeping disorder common in adults of all ages. Seniors are the ones more prone to it owing to their compromised muscle airways that come with aging. Muscle airways are essential in regulating breathing while asleep. Snoring per se is not a severe health-threatening condition, but it is a sign of a more serious condition like heart problems and stroke.

REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder

Adults over the age of 60 are most often diagnosed with REM sleep behavior disorder. This sleeping disorder is attributed to neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, conditions common to seniors. People diagnosed with it are unable to control their muscles when dreaming happens during REM sleep entirely. This results in involuntary movements like standing up and walking around while still being asleep. In worse cases, people would even eat or take a bath. 

Sleeping disorders, if not treated immediately, can result in severe problems. But people shouldn’t worry too much about it. There are a lot of medications for it available in the market right now.

Sleep Aids for Elderly

A considerable portion of the senior population takes aid for sleeping disorders. There are many classifications available in the US market at present. Each classification has specific results and side effects. Before purchasing and taking one, it is vital to consult a physician first.

sleep aids for elderly

Benzodiazepine Hypnotics

Also known as benzos, are prescription drugs used to slow down the central nervous system. Benzos are used as semi tranquilizer that helps in reducing anxiety and causing sleep. Since this type of medication is seriously strong, old patients are administered with half the standard dosage. Experts also warn that interaction with alcohol can result in detrimental effects to the body. 

Here are some of the most commonly prescribed benzos:


It is a type of benzo commonly used to treat sleep maintenance insomnia. This drug is not so useful for sleep-onset insomnia. Furthermore, this drug can lessen anxiety and relax the muscles. Side effects include dizziness, headaches, blurry vision, muscle weakness, and daytime drowsiness. This is sold under the Restoril brand.


This is prescribed for extreme insomnia. The most common side effects of this medication include dizziness, daytime drowsiness, nausea, headaches, and blurry vision. This is sold under Dormonoct and Havlane brands.


This is also prescribed for extreme insomnia. This is not recommended as a sleeping aid prescription. Side effects include memory loss, dizziness, daytime drowsiness, and inability to do locomotive functions. This is sold under the Dalmane brand.


This is a very strong type of Benzo with less sedative effects. This is prescribed for a sleeping disorder like restless leg syndrome. The side effects of this drug include headaches, dizziness, daytime drowsiness, stuttering, and appetite loss. This drug is sold under the Klonopin brand.


This one is commonly prescribed for short-term insomnia. Symptoms include daytime drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, impaired vision, memory loss, rashes, constipation, and weakness of the muscle. This is sold under the Valium brand.

Non-Benzodiazepine Hypnotics

Also called Z-drugs, are just like benzos less the various targeted effects. Z-drugs are purely for inducing sleep. Most physicians recommend Z-drugs over benzos because they have lower dependency risks and fewer side effects.

Here are some of the most common Z-drugs available in the market right now:


This medication, sold under the Ambien brand, is prescribed for short-term insomnia and restless leg syndrome. Side effects include stuffy nose, dry mouth, headaches, and nausea.


Zaleplon, sold under the Sonata Brand, is mainly prescribed for insomnia. The side effects include constipation, impaired vision, headaches, nausea, and daytime drowsiness.

There are also non-prescription alternatives for sleeping aids.

Non-Prescription Antihistamines

These are used to induce sleep in people with insomnia. Antihistamines are also used as sleeping aids because they can affect people’s ability to be exhausted. Some anti-allergy antihistamines are also used as a sleeping aid. Side effects of antihistamines include dizziness and daytime drowsiness.

Pain Relievers

Pain relievers can be useful as sleeping aids as well. But this is only for people whose sleeping problems are caused by chronic pain. Dizziness is also a side effect of pain reliever, but unlike antihistamines it does not cause daytime drowsiness.

Herbs and Supplements

These are more natural alternative sleeping aids. Many dietary supplements in the market are used to treat insomnia. Other supplements also contain sedative properties that can induce drowsiness. Despite being natural, herbs and supplements as sleeping aids also have side effects. It includes dizziness, irritability, depression, anxiety, and nausea. 

Relying on sleeping aids alone may not adequately address sleeping disorders. It is also essential to have a strategy to improve one’s sleeping habits further. Being consistent with a sleep schedule helps improve sleeping patterns as well. Staying active during daytime is helpful too. 

Moreover, proper hygiene and getting the right nutrition also plays an essential role in getting better sleep. The ambiance of a person’s room can also have a considerable factor in bettering sleep quality. Sleeping aids with an effective sleeping strategy can significantly enhance one’s sleeping pattern.

Frequently Asked Questions

There is no consensus as to what the best sleeping aid is. There are different types of sleeping aids for various kinds of sleeping disorders. It all depends on what type of sleeping disorder an individual suffers from. 


How a person’s body responds to a particular medicine is also noteworthy. People may have distinct reactions to certain drugs. It is important to take this into account to determine what the best sleeping aid is best for someone. It is imperative to get expert advice before administering one.

Sleeping aids are generally safe. Although there may be side effects, there are no proven life-threatening risks linked to it so far. However, the wrong dosage can be dangerous. It is crucial to confer with a physician and not self-prescribe. It is equally crucial to be careful of bogus products too. Make sure to purchase from a reputable seller.


Everyone is bound to get older. Aging is inevitable. Health conditions, like sleeping disorders, will come with age. It is innate for health to deteriorate as we age; but it does not mean that people should just let it be. There is something that every individual can do about it.

 In the case of sleeping disorders, taking sleeping aids is one way to address it. Having a strategy to improve one’s sleep can be helpful as well. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep is vital to maintain good overall health.

Disclaimer: If you believe you have difficulty sleeping, have mental health disorders that affect your sleep or other similar conditions, it is best to personally consult a medical or psychological health professional. This article will only provide general information and should not be used for self-diagnosis and self-treatment.

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