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5 Sleep Mistakes Older Adults Should Avoid

It's National Sleep Awareness Week – a great time to reflect on our sleep habits and how we can improve them. [1]

While sleep plays many crucial roles in our lives, health, and even our economy, it's also something that is often taken for granted, or even practically forgotten about.

So today, we're going to discuss what makes sleep so important, why many older adults are not getting the right amount of quality sleep, and crucial mistakes to avoid in order to get a better night's sleep.

The Importance of Sound Sleep

We all know how good it feels to get a healthy night's rest. But did you know that the quality and amount of sleep you get can impact virtually every aspect of your health and fitness – including mental health?

For example, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, lack of quality sleep may cause increased risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and stroke; it can also adversely affect your hormonal system. [2]

In addition to your physical health, lack of sleep can affect your mental state, too. Studies (like this one) show lack of sleep can have an adverse effect on everything from your decision making, ability to properly operate a motor vehicle, and more. [3]

As the University of Michigan School of Public Health explains:

"Sleep is essential to every process in the body, affecting our physical and mental functioning the next day, our ability to fight disease and develop immunity, and our metabolism and chronic disease risk." [4]
Sleep Can Become More Challenging as We Age

Did you know that sleep patterns change as we get older?

This can make getting enough quality sleep more difficult, even for people who used to sleep just fine.

If you're one of the many people who've noticed sleep problems developing with age (or if you've ever just found yourself wondering, "Why can't I sleep?"), the following statistics can be a real eye-opener (no pun intended):

  • Older adults also have more trouble staying asleep, including waking up more often in the middle of the night [6]
Factors that Make Sleep Challenging for Older Adults

So, how much sleep should older adults get? According to, even healthy older adults should aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. [8]

Unfortunately, this can be easier said than done – especially for people aged 65 and up. As the National Institute on Aging points out, getting enough sleep can be especially challenging for older adults, for the following reasons:

  • General malaise
  • Sleep disorders
  • Nighttime pain
  • Medicines that may interfere with normal sleep patterns
  • Health issues that cause frequent wakeups
  • And more [9]
Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Beyond simply measuring the number of hours you're sleeping each night, the following may be symptoms of sleep deprivation in older adults:

  • Feeling sleepy during the day
  • General fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Feeling irritable
  • Excessive snoring
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Breathing issues while sleeping [10]
5 Common Mistakes that Can Affect Sleep – Especially in Older Adults

Good news: It's possible to make a few small changes that can result in a big boost in the quality of your sleep – simply by avoiding the following mistakes…

Mistake #1: Staying in bed when you can't sleep

When you're having a hard time falling asleep, it may seem like a good idea to stick it out and keep trying – but sleep expert and Harvard Medical School Instructor Rebecca Robbins, PhD says otherwise.

According to Robbins, staying in bed when you can't sleep trains us to associate bed with insomnia – which actually makes sleep problems even worse! [11]

Mistake #2: Using your phone or tablet in bed

Can mobile devices ruin your sleep? This study suggests the answer may be yes. [12]

The problem is that the blue and white light waves our devices radiate can disrupt our internal clock (i.e. our circadian rhythms), as our bodies confuse this type of light for sunlight… Which can suppress our natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep.

Mistake #3: Too much napping

If you're retired or just have plenty of free time, it can be tempting to take a nap – especially if you haven't been sleeping well at night.

However, as this article explains, long naps can be especially disruptive to our sleep rhythms. [13]

Don't worry: According to the article, short naps can be okay – just make sure they aren't too frequent, or too lengthy.

Mistake #4: Not exercising enough

While getting enough exercise can be difficult for people of all ages, it can be especially challenging for older adults.

But it might help to know that exercise can help older adults sleep better! [14]

So, if you want to improve your sleep, try to focus on being active wherever and whenever you can – even if it's just a 15 minute walk after dinner.

Mistake #5: Waking up at a different time every day

This is another one that can be challenging for older adults, who often don't have to wake up at a certain time for work or family obligations.

However, according to this article from Harvard Medical School, sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help your body become more naturally attuned to falling – and staying – asleep. [15]

So make sure to rise and shine at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends).

You Can Get Great Sleep at Any Age

So there you have it… A simple plan you can use to improve your sleep, regardless of your age.

Sleep habits may change as we get older – but that doesn't mean older adults can't get a great night's sleep, consistently and predictably!



[2] Why Is Sleep Important? from NIH




[6] Aging changes in sleep from Medline Plus



[9] A Good Night's Sleep from The National Institute on Aging.






[15] Adopt Good Sleep Habits from Harvard Medical School