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Insomnia in the Elderly: Sleep Tips

Image from Mount Alvernia

It is not uncommon to hear our elderly relatives complaining about having difficulties falling asleep at night or waking up way too early in the wee hours. Elderly persons are more susceptible to insomnia for several reasons. First, they are more prone to medical conditions that may disrupt sleep such as Parkinson’s, osteoarthritis, urinary problems and other respiratory-related conditions. Second, sedentary levels tend to increase with age and a lack of physical activity makes it harder for seniors to fall asleep at night. Lastly, sleep patterns simply change with age. It is normal for sleep duration and the amount of deep sleep to decrease as one ages. Seniors who do not know this may get very worried when they notice the change and the anxiety makes it harder for them to sleep.

For those of you who want to help your elderly relatives get better sleep, let them know about these 4 tips:

1. Stay active in the day

Researchers have found that exercising increases sleep duration and improves sleep quality. By using up more energy in the day, it becomes easier to fall asleep at night. Exercising also reduces stress levels which is a common cause of sleeplessness. Elderly persons who are unable to engage in vigorous physical activities can take walks or do light exercises at the parks or any suitable outdoor spaces.

Exposure to sunlight helps regulate one’s circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that controls our sleep-wake schedule. It is not advisable to exercise too near bedtime as one may feel too awake to sleep afterwards. Lastly, avoid taking afternoon naps as that would only make it harder to fall asleep at night.

2. Create a conducive sleep environment

What are some things to look out for? First, make sure that the mattress and pillows are comfortable. They need to be replaced if your elderly parents are feeling pain or discomfort because of unsuitability. Second, ensure that the bedroom is dark and quiet throughout their sleep. If it is necessary, change the curtains and soundproof the windows. Lastly, make sure that the temperature of the room is comfortable for your elderly parents.

3. Only use the bed for sleep

Elderly persons who are having difficulties falling asleep should cultivate the habit of only going to bed when they want to sleep. This means that they should not be reading, using their phone or watching television on their bed. By using the bed only for sleep, it helps the brain build a strong association between going to bed and sleeping. If they are unable to fall asleep after lying in bed for 20 minutes, they should leave the bed to do something else and return when the sleepiness kicks in. Over time, it will become easier to fall asleep once they hit the sheets.

4. Wake up at the same time every day

Do this even if you could not fall asleep the previous night, did not get enough sleep and feel very tired. By waking up at the same time every day, we reinforce the circadian rhythm. Over time, our body naturally regulates our sleeping and waking time.


As you may have realised from what has been shared, a big part of getting good sleep is having a consistent routine. That said, insomnia can be a complex issue and it may be helpful to bring your elderly parents to see the doctor or a therapist if their sleeping problems persist.

Do you have more sleep tips you would like to share with other caregivers? Click here to share your knowledge with others on our forum.

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