The Elms Blog

Tips to Improve Your Sleep for Seniors

Jul 16, 2018

Sleep Can Be Helpful or Harmful

Amazingly, your brain is very active while you are sleeping, helping to remove toxins that build up in your brain while you’re awake. The quality of the sleep you get can actually make you healthier and work to protect against serious illness and disease.

Studies show that almost every part of your body is affected by sleep:

  • Brain
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Metabolism
  • Mood
  • Immune function
  • Disease resistance

A chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders including depression, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Sleep Stages

The sleep process breaks down into two basic types, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Your body repeatedly cycles through four distinct stages of sleep, in a specific sequence, throughout the night.

3 Stages of Non-REM Sleep

As you move through stages of non-REM sleep your heart rate, breathing, and brainwave and muscle activity slow down, eye movements gradually relax to a stop, and body temperature and blood pressure drop.

  • Stage 1 – the lightest sleep, occuring as you transition from awake to asleep, is easy to wake up from; this stage generally lasts around 10 minutes or less.
  • Stage 2 – this period of sleep is also light, lasting from 10 to 25 minutes. More of your repeated sleep cycles are in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.
  • Stage 3 – this third stage lasts about 20 to 40 minutes and is the deep sleep needed to feel refreshed in the morning. Waking up from this stage is more difficult and you will feel quite groggy and disoriented.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

Once you have cycled through the three stages of non-REM sleep you move into REM sleep, which typically spans about an hour. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Mixed frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness. Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels.

Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams. As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep. Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.

Sleep Patterns Changes as You Age

Many seniors experience much less sleep than they did as young adults or during midlife. This occurs for a variety of reasons, including the medications being taken, having a sleep disorder such as Sleep Apnea or Restless Legs Syndrome, or other medical or psychological conditions.

However, it is still important to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

Tips to Improve Your Sleep

  • Set a schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
  • Relax before bed – try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep, do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired.
  • See your doctor if you have a problem sleeping or if you feel unusually tired during the day. Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively.

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