Are Seniors Getting The Sleep They Need?

October 26, 2019

Sleep. We all need it.

Health Canada recommends the average person gets seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

However, research shows that one-third of Canadian seniors don’t meet that minimum.

Moreover, it can be harder for aging seniors to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get back to sleep if they wake up.

And because of this, research says that lack of sleep can lead to a host of problems among older adults including obesity, depression, memory loss, and damaging falls.

So what’s causing older people to lose sleep?

For starters, the amount of deep sleep we get—that is, the kind of sleep that makes us feel well-rested, healthy and alert—can begin to decline as early as our 30s.

There are many reasons for this: one being that, as we age, our bodies make less growth hormone and melatonin (which are chemicals and hormones that help us sleep well).

But there are many other reasons why seniors have trouble with sleep, such as sleep disturbances including:

  • Insomnia: a common sleep problem in older adults
  • Snoring and sleep apnea: which can interrupt breathing while sleeping (and even cause death)
  • Movement disorders: like Restless Legs Syndrome, in which a person cannot keep their legs still even while sleeping
  • Other health factors, illness, pain or medications
  • Some lifestyle habits like smoking or drinking alcohol or caffeine

Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis can also affect sleep in seniors. Sometimes, that means seniors sleep too much, while others may not sleep enough.

In other words? Sleep problems in seniors can be caused by a great number of factors.

Sleep apnea machine
Sleep apnea

What can be done?

Yes, sleeping pills can help. But it’s important to first speak with your physician before taking any, because some pills can actually make sleep worse for older adults. Moreover, there may be important underlying issues behind why sleeping is so difficult for you.

Outside of medication, here are a few other tips for seniors to improve their quality of sleep (also known as “sleep hygiene”):

  • Establish and stick to regular sleep and wake times
  • Create a bedtime routine that includes a relaxing activity (like a warm bath, reading or yoga)
  • Avoid, or least limit, napping in the daytime
  • Don’t ingest caffeine, nicotine or alcohol close to bedtime
  • Limit your fluid intake leading up to bedtime
  • Ensure your bedroom is comfortable, quiet and dark


Want to learn more about sleep, sleep disorders, and how it affects seniors?

Talk to your doctor, and/or check out the following websites:

Canadian Sleep Society

Statistics Canada

Sleep Tips for Older Adults

National Sleep Foundation (US)

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