Insomnia: Are sleeping pills the answer?

Sleep is a fundamental part of promoting our overall health. As we age, it is common for us to experience changes in our sleep. It may become harder to fall asleep, or you may wake up more often during the night and earlier in the morning. But what can you do when a good night's sleep is hard to get? In this video, Dr. Tricia Woo talks about sleep in older adults, lifestyle changes to promote good quality sleep, and the use of sleeping pills for insomnia.


Learn the answers to the following questions:

  • Why is sleep important?
  • What are common sleep problems?
  • Are there health conditions that are associated with sleep problems?
  • What non-medication strategies can help with sleep?
  • Which medication strategies are effective in improving sleep?

Want to test your knowledge? After watching this video take this quick 4-question quiz.

Give us your feedback with this 2-question survey.

Browse all video posts.

Get the latest content first. Sign up for free weekly email alerts.
Author Details
Author Details


  1. McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. When "good nights" are rare: Do sleeping pills help people with dementia? (2017 Mar 8). Accessed December 1, 2021. Available from:
  2. Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, et al. National Sleep Foundation's sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health. 2015;1(1):40-43.
  3. Dauvilliers Y. Insomnia in patients with neurodegenerative conditions. Sleep Med. 2007; 8 (Suppl 4):S27-S34.
  4. Bliwise DL, Mercaldo ND, Avidan AY et al. Sleep disturbance in dementia with Lewy bodies and Alzheimer’s disease: A multicenter analysis. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2011; 31(3):239-246.
  5. McCleery J, Cohen DA, Sharpley AL. Pharmacotherapies for sleep disturbances in dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;CD009178.
  6. Choosing Wisely Canada. Insomnia and Anxiety in Older People: Sleeping pills are usually not the best solution. (n.d.). Accessed December 1, 2021. Available from:
  7. Coupland CA, Dhiman P, Barton G et al. A study of the safety and harms of antidepressant drugs for older people: A cohort study using a large primary care database. Health Technol Assess. 2011; 15(28):1–202.
  8. Mayo Clinic. Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep. (2020 Apr 17.) Accessed December 1, 2021. Available from:
  9. Deschenes C, McCurry S. Current treatments for sleep disturbances in individuals with dementia. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2009; 11(1):20-26.
  10. McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. Sleep and aging: How many zzz's are optimal to stay healthy? (2014 Jul 21). Accessed December 1, 2021. Available from:
  11. Sleep Foundation. Aging and sleep. (2020 Oct 23). Accessed December 1, 2021. Available from:
  12. Ohayon MM, Vecchierini MF. Normative sleep data, cognitive function and daily living activities in older adults in the community. Sleep. 2005;28(8):981-9.
  13. Ohayon MM, Carskadon MA, Guilleminault C, Vitiello MV. Meta-analysis of quantitative sleep parameters from childhood to old age in healthy individuals: developing normative sleep values across the human lifespan. Sleep. 2004;27(7):1255-73.
  14. Cappuccio FP, D'Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA. Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep. 2010 May;33(5):585-92.


This work is supported through the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging and funds provided by the Dean and Vice-President, Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.