Medication-Free Insomnia Remedies for Seniors


Our sleep needs naturally change throughout our lives, and as we age, we tend to need less sleep. Everyone has different sleep needs, and sleeping less than other people isn’t necessarily a problem on its own, but a problem arises when no matter how tired you are throughout the day, you still have trouble getting to sleep at night and staying asleep. These troubles are what’s known as insomnia. About 10-30% of adults live with insomnia, making it a prevalent issue.1 Seniors are at a higher risk of developing insomnia than other age groups, so even if you’ve only recently noticed a struggle with sleeplessness that’s gradually getting worse, chances are that you could have age-related insomnia or develop insomnia in the future.


Insomnia may not sound like a dangerous illness, but if left untreated, it can have serious consequences. Because of a lack of sleep, insomnia patients tend to feel more tired and drowsy during the day. This can lead to accidents. Seniors can protect themselves from the detriment of these side effects by wearing a medical alert device such as the Alert1 On-the-Go Medical Alert necklace.2 This medical alarm button makes it easy to call for help in emergencies or accidents, and with Alert1’s 24/7 care team, you’ll never have to deal with an accident alone.


Insomnia is a medical condition, so if you suspect that you have insomnia, be sure to consult your doctor and seek medical treatment, but the good news is that there are many easy ways to manage insomnia symptoms and mitigate your fall risk. While you’re waiting to consult your doctor, you can try these tips. But first, it’s important to understand why the elderly are at a higher risk of developing insomnia.


Why Do Seniors Get Insomnia?


There are a number of medical conditions that lead to insomnia, such as sleep-disordered breathing, sleep apnea syndrome, restless leg syndrome, and rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder. Unfortunately, seniors are at a higher risk of developing these conditions. Also, certain medications used frequently in geriatrics may include sleeplessness as a side effect. Seniors are also at a greater risk of developing insomnia because of age-related sleep changes. We sleep in cycles known as circadian rhythms, and as we get older, those cycles shorten and become less uniform, leading to more frequent episodes of wakefulness during the night. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “More than half of older adults suffer from insomnia, and these subjects are often undertreated.”3 Because of its prevalence, it’s important that seniors do what they can to take care of their sleep needs.


While some people wish to take medication to remedy their sleep needs, this option should not be the first line of defense for seniors. According to the Sleep Foundation, “Some medications, such as benzodiazepines (BZDs) and non-benzodiazepines (Z-drugs), produce hypnotic effects and can increase the risk of falling for older people.”4 Because of this, doctors tend to look for alternative treatment options for the elderly, but sometimes medication is inevitable. If your medication puts you at a greater risk of falling, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to wear a lifesaving medical alert. The Alert1 On-the-Go Medical Alert System with GPS and Fall Detection can automatically detect falls and call for help, even when you’re unable to push the button.5 However, the best fall prevention strategy for this scenario is to treat insomnia without powerful medications. Luckily, there are many different ways to do this. Here are some great ways to alleviate insomnia symptoms.


Quiet the Mind


Common conditions that can lead to insomnia are anxiety and depression. The most basic trick in the book for people with these conditions to get to sleep is to calm and quiet the mind. Ever heard of counting sheep? We all know that counting sheep is supposed to help us fall asleep, but why? Counting takes little to no concentration for most people, and the melodic sequence of numbers is often all it takes to lull people to sleep. If you’re thinking about numbers, chances are you won’t be thinking of much else, which means your body will feel free to shut down enough to get some sleep. And the fluffy sheep certainly don’t hurt.


But counting sheep isn’t the only way to quiet your mind. Reading, praying, and meditating before bed can all have a similar effect, depending on the person. For some people, reading a boring book will put them right out. If reading is your preferred activity, make sure you don’t dive into anything too interesting, or this strategy could backfire. Praying can be an effective way to help you fall asleep. No, I’m not suggesting that you should be praying for sleep to come to you; if you frequently pray a familiar prayer, repeating that prayer to yourself can have the same effect as counting sheep. Praying can help you clear your mind while also providing a feeling of calm and security. Finally, meditation can provide similar relief. Sometimes, meditation is all about quieting the mind. This alone can help you to get to sleep. If not, sometimes repeating a mantra can quiet the mind and lift your spirits, putting you in a good mode to get some shuteye. Also, talking to someone during the day can help relieve stress and reduce insomnia by helping you to feel more secure and relaxed by the time night comes.


Use Technology


With the ever increasing prevalence of disorders like anxiety and depression, new technology is constantly being created to aid in falling asleep. While being in a quiet room is an important aspect for sound sleeping, some people choose to use noise to their advantage when it comes to falling asleep, like using a white noise machine to drown out the other sounds of the night. Other technological techniques may seem more counterintuitive, like listening to guided meditation or free sleep podcasts. This kind of content can easily be found on apps like Spotify or in YouTube videos, both of which are free to use. Guided meditation can help you relax your body before you fall asleep, typically directing you to focus on your breathing or on relaxing one muscle at a time. On a sleep podcast, you may find some guided meditation, but there are a variety of podcasts that do different things. Some might read you a calming story, while others might whisper and make little noises known to invoke ASMR. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, which is a tingling sensation that starts at your scalp and moves down your back. Sometimes people find this feeling to be pleasant, like the sound of someone whispering to you, and the tingling sensation can help to relax you and help you get to sleep. While it may not be for everyone, ASMR videos have become very popular over the years and have helped many people to relax before bedtime.


Keep a Sleep Schedule


Another way to reduce insomnia is to keep a regimented sleep schedule. This includes going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every day, even if it’s the weekend or you’re on vacation. Part of this sleep schedule should also take into account napping. While some of us might nod off on the couch at night while watching TV, napping before bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep when you want to, and it can turn your sleep schedule upside down. If you must take a nap, the best time to do so is around midday. This ensures that it won’t interfere with your sleep schedule, giving you enough time to fully wake up in the morning and keeping you from losing your sleepiness late at night.


Keep a Sunlight Schedule


Making sure you see enough sunlight throughout the day and making sure it’s dark when you sleep at night are important parts of getting good sleep. Bright light therapy means that you time your exposure to bright lights in a way that reflects your sleep schedule, using bright light to promote wakefulness and darkness to promote sleepiness. Because of this, it is recommended that you reduce ambient light before bed and while you’re sleeping. This means turning off electronic devices for at least half an hour before you intend to go to bed. For instance, the blue light from computer screens is known to stimulate the mind, giving your body the wrong signals, which can inhibit the production of sleep hormones and keep you awake at night.


Eat and Drink for Better Sleep


Caffeine, which can be found both in certain foods and drinks, consumed after 5:00pm can contribute to insomnia. According to Harvard Nutrition, common sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, guarana, energy drinks, and supplements.6


While people tend to drink coffee for its caffeine, some coffee drinkers prefer decaf coffee, but even decaf coffee has caffeine in it. Even though decaf has less caffeine than regular coffee, it’s still enough to cause some people to have trouble getting to sleep when they drink it too close to bedtime.


Guarana extract is commonly found in energy drinks and supplements as a stimulant. It starts out as a seed that comes from South America, and it contains about four times the amount of caffeine as a coffee bean.


Another food that contains caffeine is chocolate. Many people know that chocolate has caffeine, but it is still a commonly used food for dessert. Chocolate is hidden in a lot of foods that we tend to eat at night. For example, many ice cream flavors include a chocolate element. Even if the ice cream itself isn’t chocolate, chances are there may be some chocolate chips or a fudge swirl here and there. Sometimes chocolate can be a difficult stimulant to avoid late at night when it’s included in your favorite snack foods.


Create a Good Sleep Environment


The best sleep environment should be in a place that is dark, quiet, and comfortable. Cooler temperatures will also promote healthy sleep. Additionally, daily exercise can help you fall asleep when bedtime comes, but exercise shouldn’t be completed too close to bedtime. The time before bed should be spent winding down, not getting pumped up from a workout. Finally, the bed should only be used for sleeping and not for doing work or other activities. That way, it is only associated with sleeping. This will get your body into the right mindset when you’re ready to go to sleep.


Be Tired


Easier said than done, right? But another treatment for insomnia is stimulus control. The principle is that instead of lying awake in bed waiting for sleep to come to you, when you can’t fall asleep, get up and out of bed. Do something that won’t energize you until you feel tired. This will limit your time spent lying awake in bed. Similarly, the idea that you should limit the time you spend awake in bed in order to improve your sleep efficiency is another treatment option known as sleep restriction. The idea is that you should be sleeping for at least 90% of the time you spend in bed.4


Unfortunately, accidents can happen if you’re wandering around in the dark at night, unable to sleep. If you’re considering trying this sleep strategy, also consider wearing a medical alert while you do it. While many of us can wander around in the dark and come through it with only a stubbed toe, seniors have to be cautious when it comes to fall risks, and wearing an Alert1 In-Home + Fall Detection Classic Medical Alert pendant can provide the security you need to get back to sleeping well.


Goodnight, sleep tight, and pleasant dreams from Alert1.