A Good Night Sleep and Our Seniors: Can Technology Help Them Meet?

Sleep is important to us at all ages, but to seniors it can be a matter of health and safety.

Yes, safety. Too many of our senior loved ones are injured, some with long term impacts, by falls that might not have happened if they had been sleeping well.

Getting enough sleep is more than just a matter of not feeling tired.

We have discussed seniors and sleep in a number of articles here at Senior Care Corner®, helping family caregivers to understand and address this important aspect of daily life. If it matters to our senior loved ones, after all, it matters to us.

Technology and sleep is a topic we haven’t addressed, even though we talk often about what tech can mean to seniors and caregivers.

Thanks to a new report from the Consumer Electronics Association and National Sleep Foundation, we have some information to bridge that gap.

Technology and Sleep Research

The new report, Consumer Awareness and Perceptions of Sleep Technology, covers a broad range of tech that can impact sleep. It covers adults of all ages, but our focus is on the data related to those 65 and older (thank you, CEA, for breaking out that age group!).

It was helpful to get some broader insight on the technology habits of the seniors who were part of the study and we were pleased and the progress the results reflect.

According to the statistics in the report, seniors are not far behind younger adults now in their adoption of devices we consider part of a technology foundation.

  • 62% of seniors reported having desktop computers, compared to 71% of all adults
  • just over half of seniors and all adults indicated having notebook computers or netbooks
  • almost half use smartphones, compared to 7 in 10 adults overall
  • 40% of seniors have tablets, while half of adults overall do so

There are some areas where seniors lag other age groups in technology adoption, though not as key as those above.

  • seniors are only one third as likely to have video game equipment
  • one in ten seniors has a digital media streaming device (Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, etc) compared to one in six adults overall
  • in one relevant area, seniors trail in the use of wearable fitness technology, 11% to 4%

Overall, we are pleased with the current data on seniors’ tech adoption, as it makes us optimistic about their adoption of other technology that may be important to their lives.

What Seniors Say About Their Sleep

Interestingly, more seniors (64%) than adults overall (52%) feel they get enough sleep already. This seems to contradict what many of us hear from our own loved ones about their sleep.

One in five seniors say they track their sleep as a part of their routines, versus one in four adults of all ages. It would be interesting to know if they don’t see a need to track or if younger adults are more likely to track aspects of their lives.

While seniors indicated needing slightly less sleep than other age groups, eight in ten seniors and all adults say they need at least 7 hours a night to feel restored.

We know from a lot of other research that sleep habits and needs change with age – – and from anecdotal evidence many of our own loved ones would like to get better sleep.

Is this one area where technology can help?

Technology to Aid Sleep

Before reading the report, we were part of the overwhelming majority of adults who have seen or heard little about technology for sleep.

sleep tracking from fitbitYes, we’ve used the sleep monitoring aspects of fitness trackers to see how we sleep, but that was as much curiosity as anything, especially since we had little idea how to act on the data we saw.

Few adults overall and even fewer seniors reported using the trackers’ sleep related capabilities, but then similar numbers don’t use wearable trackers at all.

The study sought feedback on respondents’ use of specific sleep tech, including Beddit, Withings Aura, and Hello Sense. No, I haven’t heard of those either — but maybe I should.

Interestingly, the study asked about use of smart home technology to improve the sleep environment. Examples include smart thermostats, automatic blinds, and air quality monitors. While few seniors reported doing so, one in six adults overall said they had, indicating tech doesn’t have to be sleep-specific to contribute to a better night’s sleep.

On the low tech side, small percentages of seniors and all adults reported using earplugs or sleep masks regularly to enhance their sleep.

Okay, so not many of us – and few seniors – are using sleep technology. Are we missing something?

Feedback from Users of Sleep Technology

Maybe the rest of us are missing out on something, at least based on the responses of those – including both seniors and all adults – who use sleep technology.

Most importantly, six in ten seniors and other adults said technology improved the quality of their sleep.

Half even indicated feeling healthier because of the sleep that resulted from their tech use.

When it comes to the monitoring of their sleep patterns, only a small minority said they didn’t benefit at all. Most said their technology made them more aware of the patterns of their sleep.

This leads us to believe there could be benefits of sleep technology for many seniors — and their family caregivers.

That’s only if they, and we, use it of course.

Getting Seniors to Use Sleep Technology

There were hints in the report that can help us understand how to get more using sleep tech to help our seniors and a good night sleep meet.

Most seniors, though, indicated not having a sleep problem to address. While that could be seen as a problem, family caregivers could seek to have senior loved ones treat their current sleep as a baseline and use technology to learn if a negative change in pattern happens. That would allow corrective action to be taken early.

One obstacle for tech developers to address is comfort, as two thirds of seniors using wearable sleep tech said it was uncomfortable. Even the perception can be harmful, but real discomfort can offset many benefits to sleep.

Understanding where seniors turn for advice on sleep technology is important, too. Healthcare providers are considered a trusted source for insight more than family members or friends. Based on this study, marketers will get nowhere trying to use celebrity endorsers.

Awareness Before Adoption

Before we can get senior loved ones to try it, though, they and family caregivers need to be made more aware of what technology can do for their sleep. We will pass along more as information – and results indicating success – become available.

What can family caregivers do in the meantime? Seniors’ comfort with technology overall is important to their adoption of innovations that can benefit their health. Yes, more are adopting smartphones and other devices all the time, but still many are yet to see what technology can do for them.

We are looking forward to learning about more technology in the pipeline that can provide benefits to the health of our senior loved ones and all of us.

6 thoughts on “A Good Night Sleep and Our Seniors: Can Technology Help Them Meet?”

  1. U never told us exactly what sleep technology is. Or I missed it. What should I get. And yes I have a lop top a tablet and a smart phone and a roku which I figured out and installed myself. Now for sleep technology. ..

    • Gracyji, in the article we outlined several tech options many people are using including smartphone apps such as Beddit, Withings Aura, and Hello Sense. Also there are wearables that track sleep patterns such as Fitbit and other health bands. In addition to that you can create a better sleep environment using various smart home technologies. Of course there are also other techniques to employ to improve your sleep (instead of pharmacological sleep aids that can lead to falls) such as light, sound, temperature, mattress, etc in the bedroom which we outline in an earlier post. Good luck!

  2. What age seniors have all if this technology? As a personal home care director the average is 78 to 100. Manly 84 to 94. Very few of my residents have more than a flip cell phone and a tv and teaching them computer skills even small skills has not been easy nor are they interested. Are you just polling individuals age 65 and up from AARP ?

    • Good question Cathy! Seniors who are able to operate the technology can use it at any age. If they can manipulate and learn how to operate tablets, smartphone apps and wearables, then they should try it. Caregivers can assist them and train them in their use if they feel it will benefit them. Pew Research Institute polled people over 65, they were more than likely cognitively intact compared to those you may serve. Seniors are using technology including many we know personally who are well over 80 and loving every minute getting benefits from tech including their tablets!

  3. Unfortunately, the researchers did not clarify what is meant by “seniors,” because segmenting at 65+ includes boomers who are familiar with using technology in their jobs and now expect it as they reach 65 and retire at a rate of 10,000/day. There’s a huge difference between these boomers and how they use tech versus how (or whether) their elderly parents use it, and it’s not so much that the “real seniors” are afraid of technology, just that they may not have used it at work and so never learned. (Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htLswR9BUD4 to see how life-changing technology can be.)

    I’m glad to see that the CEA report includes some tech solutions to actually help people sleep better, including smart home technologies, rather than just apps & devices to track how they currently sleep.

    If anyone here is interested in participating, I’m heading up a “Smart Bedroom” white paper project for CABA to promote sleep wellness technologies to homebuilders and help them convey the health, safety & performance benefits to better differentiate themselves to buyers. I’m also working with Intelligent Sleep, a sleep wellness center in Austin, to develop sleep wellness as the third leg of health, along with nutrition & exercise, and to promote Population Sleep Wellness as a national imperative. I’ll be publishing an article on that topic next week.

    • Appreciate your thoughts, Wayne. While we share your frustration about treating all seniors as a single group, we recognize the step forward, as much past research stopped at 55+. We’ve expressed concern for some time about tech companies treating all seniors as a single market segment when in fact there are many included in the rapidly growing age segment.

      We’d love to hear more about your Smart Bedroom project as it develops and hope you’ll keep us updated.

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