Senior Sleep: Sleeping Habits and Napping

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2015/08/26 - Updated: 2021/08/06
Contents: Summary - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Information regarding the sleeping habits and requirements of elderly people including naps and sleeping disorder facts. Seniors who do not sleep well are more likely to experience attention and memory issues, depression and sleepiness during the day. Even though sleep requirements differ between people, the majority of healthy adults tend to need between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep each night to function at their best.


As people age, they often experience changes in their sleep habits. They might become sleepy earlier, wake up earlier, or experience less deep sleep. While these changes are an expected part of aging, disturbed sleep, waking up tired each day, as well as other symptoms of insomnia are not a usual part of the aging process. Sleep is as important to physical and mental health in people over the age of fifty as it was when they were younger.

Main Digest

A nap is defined as a short period of sleep, typically taken during daylight hours as an adjunct to the usual nocturnal sleep period. Naps are most often taken as a response to drowsiness during waking hours. Napping was found to be both physiologically and psychologically beneficial. Napping for 20 minutes can help refresh the mind, improve overall alertness, boost mood and increase productivity. A Power Nap - also known as a Stage 2 nap - is a short slumber of 20 minutes or less which terminates before the occurrence of deep slow-wave sleep (SWS), intended to quickly revitalize the napper.

Despite a person's age, sleeping well is crucial to their physical health and emotional well-being. For seniors, a good night's sleep is particularly important because it helps to improve concentration and memory formation, permitting their bodies to repair any cell damage that happened during the day, while refreshing their immune systems which then helps to prevent disease.

A number of doctors consider sleep to be a type of barometer of a person's health, similar to taking their temperature. Seniors who do not sleep well are more likely to experience attention and memory issues, depression and sleepiness during the day. They are likely to experience more nighttime falls, use more prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids, and have an increased sensitivity to pain. Insufficient sleep may also lead to some serious health issues, to include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, weight issues, diabetes and breast cancer in women.

Sleep Requirements

Even though sleep requirements differ between people, the majority of healthy adults tend to need between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep each night to function at their best. How they feel after a night's sleep; however, is more important than the specific number of hours they spend asleep. Frequently waking up and not feeling rested, or feeling tired during the day, are the best indicators that you are not receiving enough sleep at night and might have sleep issues that need to be addressed.

Sleep Changes with Aging

As a person ages, their body produces lower levels of growth hormone so they will likely experience a decrease in, 'slow wave,' or deep sleep. When this occurs the person produces less melatonin, which means they will often times experience more fragmented sleep and wake up more often during the night. As the person's circadian rhythm changes, they might also find themselves desiring to go to sleep earlier in the evening and waking up earlier in the morning.

When a person ages, they might have to spend a longer time in bed at night to receive the hours of sleep they need, or they may have to make up for the shortfall by napping during the day. In most instances, sleep changes are expected and do not indicate a sleep issue.

Sleep Issues Unrelated to Aging

At any age, it is common to experience sleep issues on occasion. If you experience any of the following symptoms on a regular basis; however, you might have a sleep disorder. Ask yourself if you do/do not experience the symptoms below:

Identifying Underlying Issues

A number of instances of insomnia are caused by underlying yet highly treatable causes. Even though emotional issues such as anxiety, stress and depression may cause insomnia, the most common causes in adults over the age of fifty are poor sleep and daytime habits and a poor sleep environment. Attempt to identify all potential causes of your insomnia so you may tailor treatment accordingly. For example:

Causes of Insomnia and Sleep Issues in Seniors

The most common causes of sleep issues and insomnia in seniors include poor sleep habits and sleep environment, to include consumption of alcohol before bedtime, irregular sleep hours and falling asleep with the television on. Additional causes of insomnia and sleep issues can include the following:

Sleep Disorders:

Sleep-disordered breathing such as sleep apnea and snoring, as well as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) happen more often in seniors.


Seniors tend to take more medications that people who are younger and the combination of medications and their side-effects may impair sleep.

Lack of Exercise:

If you are too sedentary, you may never feel sleep or feel sleepy all the time. Regular aerobic exercise during the day, at least three hours prior to bedtime, may promote good sleep.

Psychological Stress or Disorders:

Significant changes in life such as the death of a loved one, or moving from a family home may cause stress. Sadness or anxiety may also keep you awake which may then cause more depression or anxiety.

Medical Conditions or Pain:

Pain may keep you from sleeping well. A number of health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, asthma, a frequent need to urinate, nighttime heartburn, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and menopause may all interfere with sleep.

Learned Response:

People with a cause for having trouble sleeping, after experiencing a loss for example, might lie in bed and attempt to force themselves to sleep. Eventually, their bodies learn not to sleep. Even after the original reason for sleep disruption has gone, the learned response can remain.

Improving Sleep Habits

Poor sleep habits, to include poor daytime habits and a poor sleep environment, may be the main causes of sleep issues and low-quality sleep. In a number of instances, seniors develop these poor sleep habits over their lifetimes, yet find they create more and more issues as they age. The habits are easy to improve by doing the following:

Limit Alcohol, Nicotine and Caffeine:

All of these are stimulants and interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Exercise Regularly:

Exercise releases endorphins that may boos your mood while reducing depression, stress and anxiety.

Improve Your Mood

A more positive outlook and mood may reduce sleep issues. Find someone you can talk with, preferably face-to-face, about your worries and issues.

Be Involved:

Family, social activities and work can keep your activity level up while preparing your body for a good night's sleep. If you are retired, try joining a senior's group, volunteering, or taking an adult education class.

Sunlight Exposure:

Bright sunlight helps to regulate melatonin and your sleep-wake cycles. Try to receive at least two hours of sunlight each day. Keep shades and curtains open during daylight hours, move your favorite chair to a sunny spot, or consider using a light therapy box to simulate daylight.

Promote Better Sleep at Night

Naturally boost your melatonin levels. Artificial lights at night may suppress your body's production of melatonin, the hormone that makes a person sleepy. Use low-wattage bulbs where it is safe to do so and turn off the computer and television at least an hour before bedtime.

Do not read from a back-lit device at night, such as a tablet PC. If you use a portable electronic device to read, use an eReader that is not back-lit. Use one that requires additional light such as that from a soft bedside lamp.

Ensure that your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool and that your bed is comfortable. Light, noise and heat may cause sleep issues. Try using a sleep mask to help with blocking out light.

Use your bedroom only for sex and sleeping. By not watching television, working, or using a computer in bed, you will come to associate the bedroom with sex and sleep. When you get into bed, your brain and body will then receive a strong signal that it is time to be romantic or sleep.

Move your bedroom clocks out of view. Anxiously watching the minutes go by when you cannot sleep is a certain recipe for insomnia. Light emitted from a clock, telephone or other device may also disrupt your sleep.

Maintain a Regular Bedtime Routine

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule:

Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends. Block out snoring; if snoring keeps you up try earplugs, separate bedrooms, or a white-noise machine. Go to bed earlier, adjust your bedtime to match when you feel like going to bed, even if it is earlier than it used to be.

Develop bedtime rituals:

A soothing ritual such as taking or bath or playing music will help you to wind down. Relaxation and stress management techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing take some practice, but their benefits may be substantial.

Limit your use of sleeping aids and pills:

A number of sleep aids have side-effects and are not meant for use in the long-term. Sleeping pills do not address the causes of insomnia and may even make it worse over time. It is best to limit sleeping pills to situations where your safety and health are threatened.

Combine sex and sleep:

Sex and physical intimacy such as massage and hugging can lead to restful sleep.


People are biologically programmed to sleep not only for a long period of time in the night, but also for a short period of time during the day. If you do not feel entirely alert during the day, a nap might be what you need. For a number of people, taking a brief nap may provide the energy you need to perform full for the remainder of the day. Experiment with napping to find out if it helps you:

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2015, August 26). Senior Sleep: Sleeping Habits and Napping. Disabled World. Retrieved May 25, 2024 from

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