Sleep Disorders in Seniors: Recognizing Signs and Seeking Help

by Oct 15, 2023Relaxium Sleep, Sleep Tips, Wellness

Oct 15, 2023

Discover the signs of sleep disorders in seniors and learn how to seek the help they need for restful nights and improved overall well-being. Explore expert insights and guidance here with us at Relaxium.

Though sleep should remain a time for restoration and rejuvenation, for many seniors, the journey to peaceful slumber can be met with obstacles as sleep disorders become an increasingly prevalent and disruptive aspect of their lives. 

As we age, the landscape of our sleep patterns undergoes significant changes. The ease with which we once slipped into deep, uninterrupted sleep can start to pass, giving way to restless nights and fragmented rest. Sleep disorders in seniors represent a complex and often overlooked issue that can exact a heavy toll on physical health, cognitive function, and overall quality of life. However, there is hope, as recognizing the signs and seeking help can pave the way to a more restful and fulfilling sleep experience in the golden years.

In this blog, we delve deep into the world of sleep disorders in seniors. We aim to shed light on the various challenges that affect this demographic, ranging from common conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea to less-discussed but equally significant issues such as restless leg syndrome and circadian rhythm disruptions. By understanding these disorders and their subtle nuances, you will be better equipped to recognize the signs in yourself or your loved ones.

sleep disorders

What changes in terms of sleep as we age?

As we age, several changes in sleep patterns and sleep-related issues tend to occur. These changes can impact the quantity and quality of sleep experienced by older adults. Here are some of the key changes that commonly occur with age:

  • Shifts in sleep duration:  Older adults often experience changes in the duration of their sleep. While they may still require around 7-9 hours of sleep per night, they may find it harder to achieve and maintain these durations. Many seniors may sleep for shorter periods at night and take naps during the day.
  • Changes in sleep architecture: Sleep consists of several stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. Older adults tend to spend less time in deep, restorative sleep (slow-wave sleep) and more time in lighter stages of sleep. REM sleep may also decrease with age.
  • Difficulty falling asleep: Seniors may have more difficulty falling asleep, often attributed to factors such as age-related changes in the circadian rhythm (internal body clock), medications, or medical conditions. This can lead to longer sleep onset times.
  • Increased waking during the night: Older adults often experience more frequent awakenings during the night, disrupting the continuity of sleep. These awakenings may be due to factors such as pain, discomfort, or the need to use the bathroom.
  • Morning awakening: Early morning awakening is a common issue among seniors. They may wake up earlier than desired and find it challenging to return to sleep.
  • Increased daytime sleepiness:  Despite sleep disturbances at night, many older adults experience daytime sleepiness. This can be attributed to factors like poor sleep quality, medications, or underlying sleep disorders.
  • Sleep disorders: Seniors are at a higher risk of developing sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and periodic limb movement disorder. These conditions can further disrupt sleep and impact overall health.
  • Medication effects: Older adults often take multiple medications, some of which can affect sleep patterns. Certain medications may lead to sleep disturbances or daytime drowsiness.
  • Physical health conditions: Chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, chronic pain, and heart disease, can interfere with sleep quality and duration. 

Common Sleep Disorders in Seniors and How to resolve them

Pinpointing what sleep disorder you or a loved one may be facing is crucial to getting proper sleep at night. As we age, we are more susceptible to sleep disorders which include:

  • Insomnia 
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
  • Circadian rhythm disorders 
  • REM sleep behavior 
  • Narcolepsy
  • Nocturia
  • Medication-related sleep issues


Insomnia is a persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Seniors may experience this due to factors like medication side effects, chronic pain, or changes in sleep patterns.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. It can lead to snoring, gasping for air, and disrupted sleep. Seniors may be at a higher risk for sleep apnea due to factors such as obesity and changes in throat muscle tone.

Restless Legs Syndrome

RLS is characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs, often accompanied by an irresistible urge to move them. These sensations typically worsen at night and can make it challenging to fall asleep.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)

PLMD involves repetitive, involuntary movements of the legs during sleep. These movements can disrupt sleep and lead to daytime fatigue.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Seniors may experience disruptions in their circadian rhythms, which regulate the sleep-wake cycle. This can result in conditions like advanced sleep phase syndrome, where individuals fall asleep and wake up much earlier than desired. 

circadian rhythms

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)

RBD is characterized by the absence of normal muscle atonia during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, leading to physical movements and potentially violent behaviors during dreams. Seniors with RBD may be at risk for injury during sleep.


Although narcolepsy often starts in childhood or adolescence, it can persist into adulthood and affect seniors. It is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden loss of muscle tone (cataplexy), sleep paralysis, and vivid hallucinations upon falling asleep or waking up.


Frequent nighttime urination can disrupt sleep, especially in older adults who may have prostate issues or other medical conditions that affect bladder control.

Seniors often take multiple medications, some of which may have side effects that affect sleep. These can include sedation, insomnia, or disruptions in sleep architecture.

Understanding sleep disorders

In any case, understanding symptoms and the likelihood of sleep disorders as you age is important. You should consult with your doctor if you are seeing a shift in your sleep patterns. 

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To restful and healthy days ahead. 

The Relaxium Team 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.