Sleep problems in later life

Advice to others about getting a good night's sleep

We talked to older people about their experiences of sleep and advice to others about sleeping well. The people we talked to gave many different types of advice to help others with poor sleep, based on their own experiences. They had general advice, gave tips on what to do and what to avoid before bed, if you have difficulty getting to sleep and what to do if you wake up in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. Here are some of their suggestions:

General advice

  • The amount of sleep you need is individual, so don’t compare your sleep with someone else’s.
  • Get enough physical exercise during the day to make you feel tired, but not too close to bedtime.
  • Try not to nap during the day, and avoid dozing in front of the television in the evening.
  • Have a regular routine.
  • Make sure you get enough light during the day.
  • Make sure your curtains are very dark and close properly.


Roy suggests it is important to have a regular routine for going to bed and getting up.

Roy suggests it is important to have a regular routine for going to bed and getting up.

Age at interview: 82
Sex: Male
I do have a sort of routine for going to bed. I, well first of all I think it is essential you should have a warm bed, that really gets you relaxed and you should have confidence that you have got a comfortable bed as well. You have got to have this confidence I think in order to have a good night’s sleep and then my routine might seem a bit odd but I spend the first bit lying on my back, getting really relaxed or trying to get really relaxed and then I turn over very slowly on to my left side and then there is a certain signal which seems to occur in my brain, is it seratonin or something coming through and then I turn very slowly over to my right side, which is my best side for sleeping and hopefully drop off then.
That's when you go to sleep, so you lie on your back and then go onto one side…?
For about ten or twenty minutes.
Oh that long?
Yes. And then I try, I feel that it’s the right time to turn over on to my left side. I don’t know why that is, but …
And how long have you had this routine?
Oh a long time.
And it has helped you get to sleep?
It does help to have this regular pattern I think to go to bed every night at the same time doesn’t it. Get up more or less at the same time. 

Advice on what to do, or not to do, before bed

  • Have a warm milky drink before bedtime.
  • Be calm and relaxed, don’t go to bed anxious about something.
  • Have a warm bath to help you feel relaxed.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything too close to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol, or only drink a moderate amount.
  • Don’t drink too much tea or coffee during the day, and don’t drink too much before bedtime to avoid having to get up to go to the toilet in the night.
  • Make sure the windows are open, so there is enough fresh air circulating.
  • Have a comfortable bed and pillows.

Advice on what to do if you have difficulty getting to sleep

  • Read a book or newspaper, until you fall asleep.
  • Read a boring book that won’t stimulate your mind.
  • Try to block out all worries and anxieties.
  • Count numbers, or objects or repeat words until you feel drowsy.
  • Use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, or tightening and loosening all the muscles in the body.
  • Have lavender oil or a lavender pillow nearby for relaxation.

Advice on what to do if you wake up in the night

  • Don’t toss and turn, get up and read, or have a warm milk and honey drink.
  • For those with diabetes, make sure you take your medication, and have something to eat nearby so that you can have it in the night if needed.


Sue B. has a variety of suggestions for helping with poor sleep.

Sue B. has a variety of suggestions for helping with poor sleep.

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Female
So if you could think of some strategies, you’ve given me some hints of some , just pulling them together. Milk and honey you said was one of them?
Yes. that is very good.
That works does it to settle you down?
Yes. I could have it every night but I am probably too lazy to do that every night.
Right. That’s in the middle of the night. Any other strategies you could offer advice on. What would help people sleep? Can you think of any? You have got the lavender?
Deep breathing. I did some yoga which I didn’t really get on with. The yoga man said if you are not sleeping just taking deep breaths that I think helps.
Is that something you do?
Sometimes I do, yes. If I am not dropping off, I think oh just take a few slow deep breaths I think that helps. I think you mustn’t toss and turn. I think that is very bad.
What would you do instead of tossing and turning?
Well they say you should get up and come downstairs. And I would get up and come down and get the hot milk and honey.
Right. And then take it back to bed?
Yes. Yes.
Anything else?
And perhaps then read a bit. Read a little bit yes?
Until you feel tired?
Feel a little bit tired. Yes.

Last reviewed November 2020.
Last updated November 2020.
Next review November 2023.

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