High quality sleep is an essential part of our physical and mental wellbeing, but as you age your sleep patterns may naturally change. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, although some people naturally need more or less than this. Older people may find their sleep is lighter or they are more prone to waking during the night, but setting up good bedtime habits can improve your quality of sleep.

As you age you may experience sleep disruptions caused by health conditions, such as insomnia, anxiety, snoring, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome, and pain from arthritis. Some medications may also increase or decrease sleepiness, so it is important to take medications at the prescribed time.

Suggestions for better sleep

Regular sleep schedules and daily routines: Maintaining a regular daily routine, including going to bed and waking at the same time can be useful in keeping our body clock in step. Having meals at the same time each day and frequent scheduled activities can help maintain a daily routine.

Winding down: Before bed it is helpful to relax and avoid stimulating activity to help you get ready to sleep. Making a conscious effort to wind down with quiet activities such as reading, listening to soft music, or stretching can signal to your brain that it is time to sleep. Avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol before bed can also help promote healthy sleep.

Staying active during the day: Spending time during the day in natural light can help to keep your body clock in step. Daily exercise, including low impact movements and stretching, can improve quality of sleep. 

Safety: If you use an electric blanket, make sure to turn it off before sleeping. You should also get your electric blanket checked every year by contacting Age Concern. Avoid using hot water bottles due to the possibility of burns. Beware of home-made wheat bags as some types of wheat may catch fire when heated in the microwave.

Toilet: If you frequently get up to go to the toilet during the night, consider reducing fluid intake 2 hours before you sleep. Use night lights or a torch to safely get to the bathroom at night. Make sure to reduce the hazards in your bedroom to make the trip to the bathroom easier.

Telephones: Have a telephone and important numbers by your bed in case you need to call for help. You can contact your phone provider for another telephone.

If you cannot go to sleep, don’t stay in bed and worry about it. Try getting up and doing a quiet and easy activity such as reading and try sleeping a bit later. If your sleep troubles keep worrying you, your doctor may refer you to a Sleep Clinic, which are usually located in main hospitals.

Websites of interest

  • SleepNZ has a variety of information on many different forms of sleep difficulty, their causes, and what to do
  • Sleep/Wake Research Centre has sleep resources for older adults and general sleep
  • The Ministry of Health page has good tips for improving sleep quality
  • EMedicine has useful information about sleep disorders and ageing