As we age, it’s common to believe that poor sleep is an unavoidable side effect. However, recent research presented at the Gerontological Society of America conference in November 2023 suggests that sleep disruptions impact not only physical health but have additional implications for cognitive health. In this article, we’ll explore age-related sleep changes, the connection between sleep and brain health, common sleep disruptors in older adults, and strategies for improving sleep quality without relying solely on medication.

Age-Related Sleep Disruptions

Did you know that older individuals still need around seven hours of good-quality sleep each night? Unfortunately, this becomes increasingly challenging. Sleep researchers have found that with age, sleep tends to be shorter, more fragmented, and lacking in important sleep stages such as slow-wave and REM sleep. Additionally, undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and other conditions can significantly impact brain health.

Sleep for Better Brain Health

Emerging research suggests a direct link between poor sleep health and cognitive decline. In fact, consolidated sleep with fewer awakenings is now believed to be beneficial for the brain. Recent studies have even explored gender differences in sleep health and hormonal links to sleep quality. While the effectiveness of treating sleep problems in slowing down cognitive decline is still being researched, experts are hopeful about the potential of addressing sleep issues for brain health.

Sleep Disruptors in Older Adults

Various factors can contribute to disrupted sleep in older adults. Breathing disorders like sleep apnea, chronic heartburn, arthritis, overactive bladder, neurodegenerative diseases, and medication side effects can all play a role. For instance, did you know that nearly 90% of older adults take at least one prescription daily? Multiple medications can impact sleep quality and lead to a cycle of sleep issues. It’s crucial to discuss any concerns or symptoms with a healthcare provider.

Strategies for Better Sleep Health

Here are some practical strategies to improve sleep quality without relying solely on medication:

Rely on a healthcare provider rather than self-medicating

While supplements and combination pain relievers/sleep aids may be tempting, they may not be effective and can have adverse effects. Consulting a healthcare provider to address sleep problems is crucial, considering long-term medication effects and potential harm.

Consider cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia symptoms

Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be more effective and have longer-lasting effects compared to medications. It is recommended by the American College of Physicians and other health organizations as the primary treatment for insomnia.

Discuss sleep issues with your healthcare provider

Many sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can be diagnosed and treated without medication. Open communication with your healthcare provider is key to finding effective solutions.

Give sleep health the priority it deserves

Sleep is as critical to overall health as a balanced diet and regular exercise, yet it often goes unnoticed as an inevitable aspect of aging. Recognizing its importance and taking proactive steps to improve sleep quality can positively impact your overall well-being.


By addressing age-related sleep disruptions and prioritizing sleep health, older adults can enhance their cognitive function and overall well-being. Work with healthcare professionals to determine the underlying causes of sleep issues and explore non-medication interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy. Remember, sleep is an essential pillar of health, and by focusing on it, you can make a significant difference in your life.