Articles of Interest

Sleeping Problems in the Elderly

May 11, 2016

There is a common misconception out there that the elderly need less sleep than other adults. It isn’t true – elderly persons need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, just like the rest of us. So why do so many people believe otherwise? Partly, it’s because even though elderly people should sleep as much as others, they often don’t.

In fact, around 40% of all elderly persons suffer from some sort of sleep disorder. This is one of the biggest obstacles when caring for seniors. Just ask Larry Meigs, CEO and President of Visiting Angels: “For many seniors, a lot of problems can be traced to sleep-related issues. So often, our clients struggle with day-to-day living because they can’t get the sleep they need to re-energize.”

If your loved one struggles with sleeping issues, there’s good news. Many seniors are able to solve their sleeping issues through a few, simple strategies. We’ve put together a short guide below that you can share with your loved one for a better night’s rest.

Sleep Disorders Faced by the Elderly

Unsure if your loved one suffers from one or more sleep disorders? It can sometimes be hard to tell. Sleep disorders come in a variety of types, and many seniors find themselves affected by multiple sleep-related issues.

Some of the most common sleeping problems faced by seniors include:

  • Insomnia. Insomnia is an inability or difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Sleep Apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing for a short period. It is most common during sleeping and can wake a person from an otherwise restful slumber.
  • Periodic Limb Movement. Periodic limb movement is the involuntary movement of one or more limbs, which can interrupt or delay sleep.

Seniors may also suffer from other physical or mental conditions that can deter or interrupt sleep, such as frequent urination during the night. These kinds of conditions can be especially debilitating if combined with another disorder, like insomnia, that prevents the person from falling asleep again.

Strategies for Coping with Sleep Disorders

For many people, the first instinct when treating sleeping disorders is to rush for a pill or nutritional supplement that they believe will be a quick fix solution. Unfortunately, pills are often dangerous and potentially habit-forming, while nutritional supplements are often ineffective, or only do half the job.

Thankfully, many sleeping problems can be fixed through behavioral adjustments. Many people underestimate the effectiveness of changed habits when it comes to a good night’s sleep, but the following tips can be invaluable in helping anyone – including your elderly parent or relative – fall asleep and stay asleep.

  • Engage in Light Exercise. Regular light exercise, such as walking or gardening, will release endorphins that reduce anxiety and stress – prime causes of insomnia.
  • Enjoy the Sunlight. Sunlight helps boost melatonin, key for healthy sleep, and encourages your body to obey its natural sleep cycle.
  • Reduce TV, Computer, Phone, and Tablet Use before Bed. The artificial light of your television, computer, cell phone, or tablet can prevent you from falling asleep if used within an hour of going to bed.
  • Eliminate Lights & Noise from the Bedroom. Keep your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. Remove or turn off noisy devices and eliminate lit devices, such as LED clocks.
  • Develop Soothing Bedtime Rituals. A relaxing, consistent routine each night before bed will help calm your body and let it know that it’s time for sleep.
  • Controlled Breathing. Slow, controlled breathing helps relax your body and encourages sleep. One popular method is the 4-7-8 method, where you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight.

These steps will help cure most insomnia issues, regardless of a person’s age. If your loved one continues to suffer from sleeping problems after attempting these methods, or if they suffer from a more serious sleep disorder such as a sleep-related apnea, talk to your doctor about further steps you can take.

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