Understanding the Dangers of Sleep Medications for Seniors

senior man waking up and looking at his alarm clock

Sleep medications for seniors come with many risks, but these tips can help loved ones get a better night’s rest.

There’s just nothing that compares with the feeling of waking up after a good night’s sleep, feeling energized and ready to face the day. Yet for many seniors – as many as one in three of them – getting enough sleep is something that only happens in their dreams. And sadly, it’s a common misconception that insufficient sleep is something we just need to accept as we grow older – an assumption that Preeti Malani, M.D., chief health officer and professor of medicine at the University of Michigan wants to correct. According to Dr. Malani, “If older adults believe that these changes are a normal, inevitable part of aging, they may not think of it as something to discuss with their doctor. And not discussing it can potentially lead to health issues not being identified and managed.”

Instead of tossing and turning each night, almost half of older adults experiencing sleeping problems are turning to sleeping medications – a habit that can be extremely dangerous as we age. Sleep medications for seniors can double the risk of falls and broken bones, due to the increased dizziness and disorientation they are known to often cause. Older adults are often also at risk of becoming dependent on sleeping medications. And, the risk for car accidents may increase as well, according to Consumer Reports’ Choosing Wisely campaign.

To take it a step further, the concern even includes herbal remedies and supplements as well, which place older adults at risk for a number of additional negative health problems. Even something as seemingly harmless as melatonin can react negatively with other common meds, such as those for diabetes and high blood pressure, leading to dizziness and nausea.

A senior having sleep problems should instead talk with his or her primary care physician to rule out any underlying conditions (including depression, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, and heart disease, just to name a few) and to get his or her recommendation on how to safely improve sleep. Several safe alternatives include:

  • Cutting back on the amount of caffeine and alcohol consumed, particularly later in the day and evening
  • Making sure all electronic devices are kept out of the bedroom, and ensuring the room is cool and dark
  • Establishing a sleeping routine and sticking to it, going to sleep and awakening at the same time every day
  • Exploring the services of a professional sleep therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy

As the top provider of senior home care in Salt Lake City, UT and the surrounding area, the home health care experts at Harmony Home Health & Hospice can help older adults maintain better sleeping habits with a variety of home health care services, helping to ensure that seniors’ care needs are met so they can rest easy. Call us at 1-877-I-NEED-CARE (1-877-463-3322) to learn more.