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What Is the Best Treatment for Insomnia in Seniors?

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A senior woman lying alone in bed and unable to sleep.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can affect people of all ages. However, it can be more prevalent in seniors. As we age, sleep patterns can change, and we may experience more disrupted sleep and insomnia as a result of other health conditions. 

Some of the recommended treatments and habits for seniors with insomnia include the following:

  • Establish a sleep routine
  • Try light therapy
  • Speak with a doctor about medication
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Exercise regularly

The effects of insomnia can be disruptive and uncomfortable and may include daytime fatigue, irritability, and cognitive challenges. A supportive senior living community can help seniors practice healthy habits for managing insomnia and provide an outlet for discussing their challenges with others who may be experiencing insomnia. 

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Anyone can develop it, but seniors may be at a higher risk of experiencing insomnia

It’s not uncommon for individuals with insomnia to feel dissatisfied with their sleep and to experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood disturbances
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

Insomnia can be categorized as either short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Short-term insomnia typically lasts for a few nights to a few weeks, while chronic insomnia can last for 3 months or longer. 

The causes of insomnia can include:

  • Stress
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Mental health conditions
  • Some medications and substances
  • Physical health conditions

How Can Seniors Manage & Prevent Insomnia?

There isn’t a “best” treatment for insomnia, but it may be possible to prevent and manage insomnia by addressing what’s causing sleep problems for an individual. 

For example, perhaps a senior already has a great bedtime routine, yet they’re still experiencing insomnia. It could be medication or an underlying condition. So, changing a bedtime routine might not be effective, but perhaps a visit to their healthcare provider could shed some light on the cause and proper treatment approach for their insomnia.

Establish a Sleep Routine

One way to manage insomnia is establishing a bedtime routine. A consistent bedtime routine can help a senior’s mind and body relax and prepare for sleep.

Seniors should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, avoid daytime napping, and limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon or evening. A bedtime routine can also include relaxation techniques such as reading, listening to calming music, or taking a bath before bed. 

An empty stomach can encourage insomnia, but you also don’t want a heavy meal before bed. So, a light snack or herbal tea before bed may be beneficial.

Light Therapy

Light therapy can be a potential treatment option for seniors with insomnia—it uses techniques created to help reset a person’s circadian rhythm. It’s important to note that light therapy isn’t considered a cure for insomnia or other mental health conditions, but it could certainly play a beneficial role in someone’s overall treatment plan for insomnia.

Speaking to a Doctor About Medication

Some prescription medications can be used to treat insomnia, especially for seniors experiencing chronic insomnia. However, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before taking any new medication. 

Some medications may cause side effects such as dizziness or daytime sleepiness, which can increase the risk of falls for seniors. Over-the-counter sleep aids should also be used with caution, as they may interact with other medications.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to insomnia. It can be especially beneficial for seniors who may be experiencing anxiety or depression and can help seniors develop healthy sleep habits with relaxation techniques.

The American College of Physicians recommends CBT-I as a first line of treatment for chronic insomnia based on a systematic review of randomized trials over 11 years.


Regular physical exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality in seniors, although it’s more complicated than simply tiring yourself out. Exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can interfere with sleep. Seniors should aim to incorporate at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise into their daily routine, such as walking, swimming, or cycling.

In addition to potentially helping with sleep, increased physical activity can help seniors meet the CDC’s recommended weekly activity goals.

A smiling senior woman exercising with dumbbells.

Getting the Support You Need

Insomnia can have a significant impact on a senior’s quality of life. Fortunately, there are multiple options available for managing and preventing insomnia. Choosing a combination of the strategies above can create a potential path toward restful sleep.

We know some sleep habits can be easier said than done, especially for seniors in memory care or assisted living communities. For many seniors, having a plan in place and a supportive community can make a world of difference when dealing with insomnia.Contact us at The Legacy at Santa Fe if you’re considering a senior community in Santa Fe. Our compassionate team can book you a community tour so you can see the support you or your loved one can expect in our community.

Written by LifeWell

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