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Insomnia in Older Adults

How Insomnia Affects Older Adults

One of the most common sleep disturbances in the population of older adults is insomnia. According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, as many as 50% of older adults complain about difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. Prevalence of insomnia is higher in older individuals than in the younger population. The overall prevalence of insomnia symptoms ranges from 30% - 48% in the elderly, whereas the prevalence of insomnia disorder ranges from 12% - 20% in the younger population.

a stuffed crescent moon with a closed eye laying next to an alarm clock

What is Insomnia?

The definition of insomnia is described as difficulty initiating sleep, difficultly maintaining sleep, and early - morning awakening with inability to return to sleep. As you age, your body produces lower levels of growth hormones, and this causes a decrease in deep sleep. As this occurs, you produce less melatonin, causing you to experience more fragmented sleep and wake up more often during the night.

Common Causes of Insomnia

Some common causes of insomnia are poor sleep habits and sleep environments, pain or medical conditions, post-menopause, medications, lack of exercise, stress, sleep disorders, and lack of sunlight. Poor sleep habits/environments include caffeine or alcohol before bedtime, and not having a room that is comfortable, dark, and quiet. Some medical conditions cause pain, night-time heartburn, arthritis, and restlessness, which can interfere with your sleep. Menopause and post-menopause can cause hot flashes and night sweats. Numerous medications such as beta blockers, glucocorticoids, NSAIDS, decongestants, and antiandrogens can also cause insomnia. Lack of regular aerobic exercise during the day can also prevent good, restful sleep. Older adults who don’t sleep well are more likely to suffer from depression, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, and an increase in more night-time falls. It can also lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight problems and breast cancer.

A successful night's sleep can improve concentration, memory formation, allows your body to repair any cell damage, as well as refreshes your immune system. The goal for most healthy adults would be to obtain 7 - 9 hours of sleep each night.

How to Reach Sleep Goals:

Seek information on what is causing your disturbed sleep - This would be ruling out any medical problems, medications, stressful times, or anxiety that could be causing the lack of sleep.

Work on improving your sleeping habits and focusing on the environment that you sleep in - This would include limiting screen time from devices at night and making your bedroom a quiet, dark place with a comfortable bed. Sometimes a sound machine, ear plugs, or a mask help.

Creating a regular bedtime routine is very important for a better night’s rest - This includes going to bed and waking at the same time every day and practicing deep relaxation techniques to help you wind down.

A healthy diet and exercise also help promote a good night’s sleep - This means limiting caffeine and alcohol later in the day, only having light snacks before bed, and limiting spicy food or large meals to reduce heartburn.

Reducing stress and anxiety is important as a lot of people hold onto thoughts and worries, especially when it is time to go to sleep - Things to help with this could be listening to music, keeping a journal, or making a to-do list for the next day before going to bed.


We all deserve a good night’s sleep, and everyone experiences an occasional restless night, but our health depends on it. Encourage yourself to keep a sleep log and/or diet log if you have trouble sleeping at night, and seek medical attention if you are unable to find a solution to your restless nights!


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