While it’s well-known we should aim for eight hours of sleep each night, that benchmark often becomes harder to achieve as we age. The effects of aging on the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls the automatic nervous system and your hormones – include disruption of circadian rhythms (which control important urges like hunger) and the release of certain hormones like melatonin (which helps us fall and stay asleep).
What are the best products for seniors to use to help them sleep better?
The answer is based on several factors, including history of chronic illness, mental illness, medical conditions or sleep disorders like sleep apnea, chronic insomnia and restless leg syndrome. It’s always a good idea to consult your senior’s physician before introducing any major changes to their lifestyle.
While you likely won’t find the best solution on the first try, open communication with the older adult in your care, some trial and error and a little patience will get you to a successful place and allow them the rest they need to feel strong, healthy and happy.
We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite sleep products and aids to help you give the gift of better sleep to the older adult with sleep problems in your care.
Essential oils are oils derived from plants and have been around for centuries. These oils are used among cultures across the globe for many reasons, including relaxation and sleep. I’m personally a big fan of essential oils and use them in massage oils, lotions, cosmetics and in my diffuser. Because you should never recommend that your senior ingest or apply a new product without consulting their physician first, we recommend using subtle inhalation methods for integrating these scents into their bedtime routine. The best scents for sleep include:
I use a diffuser on my nightstand while I’m reading or winding down for the night. In my experience, you can’t really go wrong with any diffuser you can find. But many of the diffusers on Amazon come with a starter pack of oils/oil blends so you can try out different scents and see which ones work best for the older adult in your care.
If a diffuser is overwhelming to your senior, or for a more direct application to inhale essential oils before bed, try a pillow mist. My mists of the moment are from the Bath & Body Works collection of Aromatherapy sprays, made with essential oils. These fine mists can be sprayed on pillows, sheets or in the air of the bedroom right before bedtime and are inhaled as you sleep. My favorite mist scents are:
Aside from investing in a new mattress, there are smaller-ticket items that can help your senior feel more comfortable, avoid poor sleep and feel better the next day.
Not only can weighted blankets offer comfort to those who suffer from restless leg syndrome and the associated sleeplessness, they can help release serotonin (the “feel-good hormone”). Weighted blankets are considered safe for seniors, provided they don’t pull the blanket over their faces.
For hot summer months – or for those who tend to run hot – a cooling blanket is a must-have. The DANGTOP Cooling Blanket is made of 100% cool-to-the-touch bamboo fabric suitable for temperatures up to 121 degrees Fahrenheit.
While people use sleep masks for many reasons, using a sleep mask can help you sleep better by blocking light and providing comfort or a cooling sensation for your face. I personally prefer loose-fitting sleep masks of soft fabric and cooling masks like the LC-dolida Silk Sleep Mask. This mask is easy on sensitive skin because it’s made of silk, is lightweight for those suffering from claustrophobia, and includes a pocket for the included gel insert (which can be cooled or heated). And at a low price point of less than $15 on Amazon, it’s a good go-to for those trying out sleep masks for the first time.
If your older adult is a regular tea or coffee drinker, introducing a bedtime tea could be an enjoyable way to unwind and imbibe a relaxing beverage at the end of the day. I’ve enjoyed Yogi-brand teas for almost two decades now and always have a few on hand in my pantry. Yogi offers several varieties of herbal (non-caffeinated) teas but also has two bedtime teas which help you prepare for bed:
Yogi Tea – Soothing Caramel Bedtime (Chamomile Flower, Skullcap and L-Theanine with notes of vanilla and caramel)Shop Now $24.84
I use the Vicks Immunity Zzzs nighttime gummy to help me unwind and transition to sleep after a stressful day. I love the flavor and the added vitamins to help boost my immune system, in addition to a dose of melatonin to kick-start my sleep cycle. Because it’s a naturally occurring hormone in the human body, the over-the-counter product is usually safe for seniors in low doses and for short-term relief, such as from jet lag. To learn more about using melatonin, including dosage and possible side effects, check out what The Sleep Foundation said about it on its website, and always consult your senior’s physician before introducing a new substance into their routine.
Sleep devices are becoming more and more common in bedrooms across the U.S.—and it’s no surprise with 50% of Americans over age 60 having difficulty falling and staying asleep and 30-48% suffering from insomnia. The following devices received high marks among current users.
The Dodow Sleep Aid Device claims to help more than one million people fall asleep faster, and it’s not hard to see why. The Dodow is a metronome that mounts to your ceiling and incorporates light to help you fall asleep faster and without sleep medication. It uses leading-edge technology inspired by more than 13,000 studies on cardiac coherence.
For the all-in-one sleep machine, check out the Hatch Restore, which combines the features of a sound machine with a smart light, reading light, wind-down content and wake-up light to help customize your sleep-wake routine and help you form healthier sleep habits. At a higher price point, it’s a bit more of an investment but promises more functionality, and of the more than 5,000 Amazon ratings, 73% of them are five stars.
Why is it important for seniors to have a good night’s sleep?
Sleep is a critical driver of good health, so changing sleep patterns in an older adult can put seniors at increased risk of serious health issues like depression, heart disease, diabetes and even arthritis. A new study showed that those with “greater fluctuations in their sleep duration were at greater risk of cognitive decline as they aged.”
This suggests it’s not just the quantity of sleep time but the quality of sleep that determines healthy outcomes in the geriatric population. And because the process of aging – along with common medications and discomfort from chronic illness – often impact sleep, it quickly becomes a losing battle to get high-quality sleep for many older people.
Good sleep hygiene can be hard to achieve
If you’re caring for an older adult, you’ve likely seen the effects for yourself if they struggle to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Sleep hygiene refers to the bedroom environment and sleep-related habits, and having good sleep hygiene is key to correcting sleep disturbances, sleep latency, daytime drowsiness and excessive naps.
You’re not alone if you’ve tried a variety of sleep aids or supplements to help the person in your care unwind and sleep peacefully. Of the 80% of Americans who report having trouble sleeping, 31% of those use a sleep aid or supplement on a regular basis.
If the older adult in your care struggles with sleepiness and a poor sleep schedule, know you are not alone and remember you have more options than ever before. This list offers a start to the many choices you have for sleep aids, so be sure to do your research and talk to your senior’s physician before making any major changes to their routine, health care or diet.