Sleep Problems

Care & Treatment

Once the diseases that have caused sleep problems are treated, the problems might improve. But, if they continue, you can improve sleep using healthy sleep habits and therapy.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (a type of talk therapy) can have quick and lasting benefits. Over a few sessions, you and your therapist will identify sleep habits to change and you will learn new behaviors such as:

  • Sleep restriction. Time in bed is reduced to your estimated total sleep time (not less than five hours), then gradually increased as you sleep more. The estimated total sleep time is based on a sleep diary.
  • Relaxation techniques. These could include meditation, muscle relaxation, imagery training, and self-hypnosis,
  • Stimulus control. Keep your sleeping area dark and quiet at night but get bright light during the day.
  • Cognitive intervention. Correcting maladaptive and incorrect beliefs about sleep.

Even brief courses of therapy (for example, two in-person sessions plus two phone calls) are effective in older adults with chronic insomnia.

Medication Treatments for Sleep Problems

Prescription Medication

Older people need to be careful when using sleep medications. These drugs are linked to:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Higher risk of falling and breaking a hip
  • Mental effects like confusion and memory problems 

Sleeping pills can have little effect on sleep, are habit-forming and any positive effect can disappear with long-term use.   

Avoid using these medications if you can. If you do use them, try to use the smallest effective dose and only for a short time. 

Avoid taking sleeping pills more than four times in a week to avoid feeling groggy during the daytime. Remember that sleeping pills do not cure insomnia. They only provide temporary relief and have serious health risks. You may have even more trouble sleeping after stopping sleeping pills, especially if you have become addicted to them.   

Do not drink alcohol if you are taking sleeping pills. This may cause the side effects of the pills to increase greatly. 

Alternative Remedies

These remedies include:

  • Melatonin, which may improve sleep quality and duration in some people.
  • A glass of milk or herbal teas, such as chamomile, help people relax at bedtime, but may increase trips to the bathroom at night.
  • Valerian and kava have been used to treat sleep problems, but they may cause serious side effects.

Let your healthcare provider know if you are taking supplements, since they may affect your medications. 

Check with your healthcare professional before trying an over-the-counter sleep remedy. They  may become habit-forming or affect other medications. Sleep medications can be dangerous when used with alcohol.



Last Updated January 2023

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