Addressing Chronic Sleep Struggles For Seniors

Sleep is one of the simplest yet most complex things we do.

For some, finding a good rest is as easy as closing their eyes whether in a car, on a park bench, or lying in bed. But for others, it feels like more of a battle for sleep or a perfect calculus of all things adding up just right to turn into a restful night.

These chronic sleep struggles are often more frequent for seniors.

A chronic lack of sleep can lead to all sorts of significant mental and physical health issues ranging from more substantial aches and pains to slower recovery time from injuries to increased risk of anxiety or depression. The bottom line is: quality sleep is important, and if you aren’t getting it, something needs to change.

Fortunately, being aware of and recognizing the potential signs of chronic sleep struggles can lead to effective changes. There are solutions out there for most people.

Find the root cause

There are more than a few potential causes of chronic sleep struggles, but effective treatment depends upon narrowing down the list and ultimately treating the root cause of the problem. Remember, just because you are sleeping part of the night doesn’t necessarily mean it is quality sleep. If you are still waking up exhausted after a night’s sleep, you may not be getting enough deep sleep.

One example of a root cause that could contribute to chronic lack of sleep is stress. Stress is known to contribute to a lack of sleep by reducing both the quality and duration. Though it may not always be easy to deal with the cause of stress head-on, there are a lot of ways to help manage stress for a better night sleep including things like:

  • Meditation before bedtime
  • Exercise throughout the day
  • A reduction in alcohol or caffeine intake
  • Working towards a healthier diet
  • Conversations with friends, family or a professional

For seniors, in particular, managing medications can also make a difference in the quality and duration of sleep. Nearly 40% of those over the age of 65 are taking five or more medications, which can intermix to decrease sleep quality. It is important to take note of how a new medication affects you. If significant changes in sleep do occur, start by talking to a doctor or other healthcare provider about alternatives that may not have the same side effects.

Make local adjustments

Sometimes the things that impact the quality of our sleep are relatively simple in retrospect. For instance, an open curtain may allow too much light in for some seniors to sleep well. Seniors especially are prone to many of the challenges that come from chronic sleep struggles, so if there is an easy fix out there, it is worth the adjustment.

One of the best adjustments that can be made for better sleep is to get into a bedtime routine. The routine doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just consistent. For example, a routine could include a short walk or stretch session, brushing teeth and taking care of other bathroom sink activities, and lying in bed reading for 30 minutes before lights out.

Other tips and small adjustments that can be made to improve the likelihood of quality sleep include things such as:

  • Reducing naps and limiting the nap that do happen to shorter times
  • Taking a warm bath before bed to relax muscles
  • Adjusting the bedroom temperature by turning up the heat of opening a window
  • Blocking out noise with either earplugs or a noise machine
  • Upgrading mattresses or pillows that aren't comfortable anymore

Talk with a professional

Of course, there are certain situations where making small adjustments or even substantial lifestyle changes just isn’t enough. Sometimes discovering the root cause of a chronic sleep problem is something that requires professional help to address. In these cases, it is perfectly necessary to seek out the advice of a medical professional.

Even if you always slept well as a younger person, growing older can lead to new challenges. Sleep patterns and habits of older people change naturally, which can result in the development of sleep disorders. Sleep disorders can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and may or may not be the result of some other factor, so talking with a doctor can be a profound help in addressing an issue.

Medical professionals can also play a major role in helping to make adjustments to and manage medications. For example, if multiple medications are interfering with sleep, a doctor may be able to seek out alternatives that don’t have the same side effects. Likewise, a healthcare professional can assess and prescribe different medications that could improve sleep quality significantly.


Chronic lack of sleep is a significant struggle for many seniors. Changes in body function, lifestyle, and medications are just a few factors that could contribute to these difficulties. If you are experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, start by searching out the root cause of the problem. If possible make adjustments to rectify it, but if that doesn’t work it is worth seeking the help of a medical professional.

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