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Sleeping Well

Many elderly believe they have sleep problems. They worry that they are not getting enough sleep. A better understanding about sleep can help alleviate this anxiety.

Less Sleep

Some elderly think that they suffer from insomnia because they sleep less than before. In fact, when people grow older, their sleep pattern often changes; for example, the total sleeping time may shorten, the proportion of "shallow sleep" may increase and they may be easily awakened. These changes are common and are not equivalent to insomnia or sleep problems.

Sleep and Health

Some elderly think that eight-hour-sleep is necessary to maintain health. Accordingly, they may be "lying" in bed for a longer time to ensure they have sufficient sleep. However, this practice would not increase their total sleeping time; worse, their quality of sleep may be undermined (e.g. lying awake in bed). Actually, the total sleeping time required varies among individuals. If the elderly feels refreshed after waking, there is enough sleep. Therefore, the elderly should go to bed only when they feel sleepy. There is no need to rigidly follow the eight-hour-sleep rule.

Afternoon nap

Some elderly take afternoon naps to compensate for the "lost" sleep time at night. However, such naps, whether regular or irregular, would reduce the daily sleep requirement and also sleepiness. Therefore, refraining from naps may help the elderly to achieve better sleep at night. If they feel sleepy in the afternoon, they can go for a walk or do something else to reduce the sleepiness. In general, a regular sleeping pattern is important to prevent or alleviate insomnia.


Some elderly like to do exercise before bedtime or after awakening from sleep to help fall asleep again. These are not appropriate. To help fall asleep again, they should try more gentle and quiet activities such as knitting or reading magazines (not exciting ones). It is useful to do exercise in the daytime to help with sleep at night.


Elderly with chronic insomnia should seek medical advice. Use of sleeping pills without prescription is dangerous. Smoking, and drinking alcohol, coffee and tea have negative effects on sleep and should be avoided.