Insomnia in the elderly: causes, symptoms and treatment

Many older people experience insomnia, which can be due to mental health issues, medical conditions, and lifestyle changes. Treatment may involve improving sleep habits, therapy, and medication.

Some estimates suggest that up to 50% of older adults report symptoms of insomnia. However, insomnia is not a natural part of aging – many older people have no problems sleeping.

Insomnia occurs when a person has trouble falling asleep or getting good quality sleep. Different treatments and therapies can help a doctor to adapt to a person’s needs.

This article discusses the causes of insomnia, its symptoms, the effects of insufficient sleep, and its treatment.

As a person ages, they often experience changes in routines, behaviors, medications, and overall health. This can increase the risk of developing a sleep disorder such as insomnia.

For example, a person may develop a new underlying condition, take new medications, and change their lifestyle after retirement, putting them at greater risk of developing insomnia.

In addition, evidence suggests that a person will experience changes in their circadian rhythm as they age. These changes mean that an older adult may notice their average sleep per night decreases to between 5 and 7 hours until about age 60, when it reaches a plateau.

There are several possible risk factors and causes of insomnia in older adults. They include underlying medical or psychiatric conditions as well as drug reactions.

Medical conditions

Possible causes of medical conditions include:

Medicines or drugs

Possible causes of medication or substances are:

Other causes

Other possible causes or risk factors Involving:

  • shift work
  • interruptions to sleep in a hospital environment
  • death of a family member
  • changes in routine due to retirement or an irregular sleep schedule
  • changes in the environment, such as moving to a new home
  • excessive napping during the day
  • being feminine

Symptoms of insomnia in the elderly are similar to other age groups.

An older adult may have insomnia if they experience it one or more of the following symptoms:

  • problems falling asleep
  • difficulty maintaining sleep
  • resistance to going to bed on an appropriate schedule
  • waking up earlier than desired
  • difficulty sleeping without caregiver intervention

Sleep disturbances can cause a person to experience symptoms during the day. These can be:

  • drowsiness during the day
  • fatigue or malaise
  • mood disturbances or irritability
  • decreased motivation, energy or initiative
  • decreased social, family, occupational, or academic performance
  • memory, concentration or attention disorder
  • behavioral problems, such as impulsivity, aggression or hyperactivity
  • dissatisfaction with sleep
  • increased risk of accidents or errors

Learn more about how to know if you suffer from insomnia.

A health care professional may ask about a person’s sleeping habits and any symptoms they are experiencing.

Healthcare professionals define insomnia as a person who suffers from it 3 nights or more in a week of difficulty falling or staying asleep. With chronic insomnia, the sleep problems must last for 3 or more months.

In addition to assessing sleep, a health care professional may perform additional checks to determine if the lack of sleep is co-occurring with other conditions, such as heart disease, depression, or other conditions.

The treatment may differ per person. It often involves a combination of medications, natural remedies, and changes in sleep routines.

Experts overall recommend that a person takes an active role in developing their treatment plan to help them stick to it. The goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of sleep loss and help prevent daytime symptoms and possible complications.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) is a first-line treatment for insomnia. The technique includes several cognitive and behavioral techniques to help improve short- and long-term sleep quality.


Several medications can help with insomnia. A person should work with a health care professional to determine the best medications for them and discuss possible side effects before starting a new medication.

Some options Involving:

Natural remedies

a Study from 2018 suggests that melatonin and valerian root are alternative or complementary cures for insomnia. While both are associated with only mild side effects, lack of regulation means formulas and doses can vary widely between brands and products.

As with other medications, a person should discuss the use of melatonin, valerian root, or other herbs or supplements with a health care professional before taking them.

Other treatments

Several non-pharmaceutical options can help with insomnia. Some suggestions Involving developing healthy sleep habits, such as:

  • eating a balanced diet that contains enough iron and vitamins
  • getting regular exercise
  • avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine just before going to sleep
  • making the bedroom an inviting space to sleep with cool temperatures, make it dark, and have no electronic devices
  • avoid naps
  • eating meals on a regular schedule
  • avoiding certain medications
  • take steps to manage stress
  • limit fluids before bed
  • going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day

Learn more about developing good sleep habits.

Several primary sleep disorders can affect older adults, included:

In addition, several chronic diseases can affect sleep, such as allergies, pain, or other conditions.

A person should speak with a health care professional if they experience symptoms of insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Lack of sleep can affect daily activities, mood and overall function. Treatment can help improve symptoms and a person’s quality of life.

People can aid diagnosis by keeping a sleep diary or diary so they are aware of symptoms and their duration when talking to health care providers.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in older adults. The condition can make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get a good night’s sleep.

This can lead to various problems that can affect a person during the day and increase the risk of various comorbid conditions.

Treatment usually focuses on improving the length and quality of sleep. This may include medication use, cognitive behavioral training, and other lifestyle changes to help a person improve their sleep quality.

Insomnia in the elderly: causes, symptoms and treatment

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