Sleep Hygiene for Older Adults

Sanford Center for Aging

Need Better Sleep? You're Not Alone.

More than 3 million Americans experience sleep problems every year

  • Sleep problems are common among older adults.
  • In general, older adults have:

° Difficulty staying asleep

° Problems with waking up too early

° Increased time to fall asleep

° Daytime sleepiness

How to improve sleep

1. Reduce stimulation
  • Exercise daily but not close to bedtime.
  • Do not use bed for reading, eating or watching television.
  • If unable to fall sleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed and perform soothing activities such as listening to soft music or light reading.
  • If hungry, have a light snack (except with symptoms of GERD or medical contraindications).
  • Avoid heavy meals (fried foods and those high in salt or fat) before bedtime.
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, especially in the evening and before bedtime.
  • Wear comfortable bed clothing.
  • Avoid exposure to bright light such as cell phone, TV, tablet, computer.
2. Develop a routine
  • Maintain regular rising and bedtime hours.
  • Wind down before bedtime and maintain a routine (washing up, going to bathroom, etc.).
  • Get adequate exposure to sunlight or bright light during the day (morning light is best).
  • Keep a sleep diary for 1 to 2 weeks to determine your average total daily sleep time, and try to sleep the same amount every night.
3. Restrict sleep
  • Do not go to bed unless sleepy.
  • Eliminate naps or decrease them to no more than 20 minutes a day. Longer naps can interfere with normal sleep cycles.
4. Use relaxation techniques
  • Relax mentally before going to sleep. Do not use bedtime as worry time.
  • Control the nighttime environment with comfortable temperature, quiet and darkness.
  • Try familiar background noises (such as a fan or other "white noise" machine).
  • Tense and relax each muscle group.
  • Use meditation or imagery techniques to relieve racing thoughts or anxiety.

What about sleep aids?

  • Over-the-counter sleep aids often include antihistamines (like Benadryl). Antihistamines can have adverse effects. These may include falls, confusion, constipation and problems with urination.
  • Higher doses of melatonin can have the reverse effect. It can cause you to stay awake instead of sleep.

Contact your doctor if...

  • You have sleep problems for more than a month
  • You never seem to get enough sleep
  • You fall asleep without warning during the day

More information

"A Good Night's Sleep," from the National Institute on Aging

Reference: Harper, G., Lyons, W., Potter, J. (2019) The Geriatrics Review Syllabus: A Core Curriculum in Geriatric Medicine, 10th Edition

(GRS10). New York: American Geriatrics Society.


Handout Prepared by: Souren Forouhi, MD Geriatric Medicine

April, 2020