Dear Donna:

Since I retired a few years ago, I’ve developed insomnia. While I know many people have difficulty sleeping well as they get older, it’s new for me. I’ve read sleep issues can contribute to health problems, so I know I need to beat this.

Do you have any suggestions? The fatigue is really catching up with me this winter, and the timing is bad. I’m downsizing my house so I can start exploring independent living communities in Michigan to move to next summer. It’s hard work and I need more sleep so I can get things done!


Debbie in West Branch, MI

Tips for Seniors Trying to Beat Insomnia

Dear Debbie:

Thanks for writing to me! First, know that sleep challenges become more common with age. Research shows as much as 30 percent of the population suffers from insomnia. But for older adults, the number soars to as high as 50 percent! Some seniors express difficulty falling asleep and others say it’s tough to stay asleep. As you mentioned, the lack of rest can take a toll on your health.

  • Eat right and exercise: When you are tired from a lack of sleep, bad habits are more likely to slip in. Eating unhealthy comfort foods, sitting too much, and exercising too little are a few. It’s a vicious circle. Try to work on making better food choices and getting regular exercise. Start small, such as taking a 10-minute walk each morning and limiting how much time you spend watching television or on social media.
  • Find healthy stress busters: You mentioned you are preparing for a move to an independent living community this spring. Even when you are excited about a move, change can be tough. Try to explore a few ways to naturally manage daily stress. Some suggestions might be meditation, chair yoga, or journaling.
  • Develop sleep rituals: The lack of structure retirement often brings is another potential cause of insomnia. You might be able to overcome it by developing a sleep routine and rituals. Turn off your television and other devices at least one hour before bedtime to give your brain an opportunity to rest. Creating a dark, peaceful sleep environment helps too. If you can’t sleep when it’s too quiet, try using a white noise machine or a fan. Finally, go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Limit caffeine: Another common cycle that develops among seniors who have sleep problems is consuming too much caffeine. The energy boost it provides can be hard to resist when you are feeling weary. While caffeine does help in the short term, it can contribute to insomnia. Try to limit caffeine intake to the morning. Also, take time to learn about hidden sources of caffeine in your diet. Some examples include candy, supplements, protein bars, ice cream, and pain relievers.

If you try these ideas and still can’t get a good night’s sleep, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. You might have a condition like sleep apnea that requires medical intervention.

Kind regards,