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In-Home Health Care: Seniors and Insomnia

Sep 30, 2017 by Larry Morgan

Sleep is a vital component to maintaining a high quality of life, regardless of your age. Unfortunately, seniors are especially vulnerable to developing sleeping disorders for a variety of reasons. Seniors don’t get as much deep sleep as younger people do anyways, so disorders and other health issues can compound preexisting problems.

Here’s the breakdown on senior sleep problems and how to combat them:

Signs of Sleep Disorders

If your senior suffers from one or more of the following symptoms, they may have a sleeping disorder:

  • Waking up extremely early in the mornings
  • Not being able to fall asleep at night
  • Waking up frequently in the middle of the night
  • Not being able to tell night and day apart

Things That May Keep Your Senior Awake

Health issues, as well as the medications taken to treat said health issues, may be partially responsible for both their lack of and poor quality of sleep. Some examples include:

  • Depression
  • Drinking alcohol, especially binge drinking or frequent drinking
  • Caffeine intake
  • Having to get up to urinate during the night
  • Chronic pain
  • Snoring
  • Not getting enough exercise during the day
  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other neurological problems
  • Side effects of prescription drugs

It Could Be Biological

There is also scientific evidence out there that the physiological changes seniors experience may contribute to sleep problems.

One theory suggests that as we age, our bodies produce less melatonin, the hormone that is released in our brain to help us sleep.

Another issue involves the body’s circadian rhythm, which is like our body’s internal clock to keep us on track with the time of day. A shift in this can make seniors more tired at inappropriate times of the day, and wide awake at night when they should be sleeping. This is also why many seniors tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.

Additionally, many of the elderly suffer from insomnia, which could be due to some underlying health problem, either physical or neurological. Not sleeping enough can add up over time to the point where it begins affecting their quality of life.

Tips to Make Your Elderly Loved One Sleepy

Though it is true that the elderly don’t need as much sleep as younger people, they still do need sleep (and quality sleep, at that).

If they’re struggling to get a good night’s rest or have a sleep disorder, here are some tips for helping them fall and stay asleep:

  • Lifestyle Changes: This could range from large changes such as drastically changing their diet and exercise (within reason and in line with their doctor's recommendations), to small changes such as not drinking caffeine after 5 p.m. or eating a large meal before bed. Be sure to try to have them exercise at some point every day, too. Exercising can help reduce stress, increase circulation and promote overall bodily well-being.
  • If your senior has any medical problems or conditions, get them treated. Whether they're having issues urinating in the middle of the night, pain from arthritis or feelings of depression, getting their physical and mental health under control can help them get quality sleep during the night.
  • Make a sleep schedule. Going to bed at around the same time and waking up in the morning around the same time can help regulate their body and make it more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep during the night. Try having them avoid naps during the day, and to use their bedroom as a place of relaxation and rest only.
  • If your senior can’t fall asleep, they shouldn't just lay there. If they've been lying in bed for over twenty minutes to no avail, they should get up and do something. If you are their caregiver, maybe read them a book, encourage and/or help them take a warm bath to try and relax. When they finally begin to feel tired, have them try lying back down again.

These tips can help your senior (and you) get a better night’s rest. If you have more questions or are concerned they may have a medical sleeping disorder, talk to their doctor or a geriatric specialist.

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