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Sleep and the elderly

Home care tips for a good night's sleep for seniors

Do you have difficulty falling asleep at home? Are you anxiously waiting for sleep? Not sure how to sleep through the night without waking up? Sleep quality and modes change with age.

Insomnia is a common issue care-at-home workers face for elderly people. Around one in two seniors suffer from a sleep disorder. The greatest changes to our sleep happen between the age of sixty and seventy. While the total duration of sleep for older people usually doesn’t decrease, their sleep becomes shallower. This can be down to, among other things, changes in sleep structure occurring as the body ages. Seniors experience less deep sleep and become more easily awake.

Older people are more sensitive to external factors; a bedroom that is too warm, a snoring partner or a mattress that isn’t right.  Psychological factors also play a role, Loneliness, tension and excessive or insufficient activity have a negative impact on their sleep.

The most common sleep disorders live-in carers have to help seniors with are:

  • Somatic diseases
  • Dementia diseases
  • Depression
  • Inadequately treated pain
  • Bed immobilisation
  • Adverse effects of medication
  • Unfavourable environment (temperature, noise)
  • Nocturia – urination at night
  • Lack of activity during the day

Older people rarely have difficulty falling asleep, however the problem usually faced is staying asleep, waking up during the night and having difficulty falling back to sleep after waking up. Seniors also tend to sleep more during the day, usually around 30-60 minutes, and correspondingly, less at night.

Tips our live in carers follow, to help seniors get a good night’s sleep:

  1. Ensuring the room is ventilated and the temperature is regulated makes it easier to fall asleep. Although it is better in general, to fall asleep in a cooler room, it needs to be slightly warmer for older people. An elderly person should not drink too many liquids or eat foods that are harder to digest before bedtime.


  1. Exposure to light at the wrong time is going to disrupt the circadian rhythm, even with a regular lifestyle. To strengthen the circadian rhythm, stay in well lit rooms during the day and use the daylight as much as possible by getting outside. Conversely, in the evening, exposure to light should be avoided, especially blue light, which will have a detriment to the eyes, such as television screens, computers and other devices. Where possible, night-modes should be enabled on devices to minimise the amount of blue light exposure.


  1. Elderly people should avoid using a computer or tv in the last 3 hours before bed or at the very least, the last hour before bed. Blue light is the strongest inhibitor of melatonin release and for the brain, is a signal of dawn- the beginning of the day. Sunset has a yellow-red hue, so a warm colour; such soft light, should be used in the evening and any light used for reading should always come from behind the head.


  1. Ensure the care at home patient has the right pillow and mattress. A mattress needs to be reasonably soft, as older people have thinner skin, and often a smaller layer of adipose tissue (fatty tissue), which can make any pressure on the body more noticeable. A mattress that supports thermoregulation is a good solution as elderly people can struggle to regulate consistent body temperature. It can be too cold for them to fall asleep, yet they can also overheat. A suitable pillow is important, as it is rehabilitative and orthopaedic. A good pillow will reduce muscle tension by positioning the head in the right position and will not restrict the blood flow to the rest of the body.


  1. Calf cramps can be an issue for elderly people and if our carers find their patients have this, we suggest using a pillow to elevate the feet slightly higher.


  1. For psychological issues, such as anxiety, worry and even loneliness, heavy blankets and duvets are helpful to reduce these feelings and induce a state of calm.


If you are interested in live-in or domiciliary care for your loved ones, contact us today.


Further reading

Sleep and Tiredness


 Sleep and Mental Health


 Weighted Blankets


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