All people need sleep. But older adults have some special needs and concerns when it comes to getting to sleep and getting enough sleep.
Why can’t some older adults sleep?
Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as all adults — seven to nine hours each night. However, older people tend to have situations related to their age that make it harder to get all the sleep they need. For example, feeling sick, cold, hot, or uncomfortable can make it hard to sleep. So can being in pain. Some medicines can keep older adults awake.
Insomnia is common for older adults
Unfortunately, insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults age 60 and older. People with this condition have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia can last for days, months, and even years. Older adults with insomnia:
- Take a long time to fall asleep.
- Wake up many times in the night.
- Wake up early and are unable to get back to sleep.
- Wake up tired.
- Feel very sleepy during the day.
Often, being unable to sleep becomes a habit. Some people worry about not sleeping even before they get into bed. Such thoughts might make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Some older adults who have trouble sleeping resort to the use over-the-counter sleep aids. Others use prescription medicines to help them sleep. These medicines can help when used for a short time. But remember, medicines are NOT a cure for insomnia and might not be an overall, long-term solution to the problem.
What happens to older adults who lack sleep?
No matter the reason, if a person doesn’t get a good night’s sleep, the next day he or she might:
- Be irritable
- Have memory problems or be forgetful
- Feel depressed
- Suffer from more falls or accidents
What can older adults to get more sleep?
Being older doesn’t mean you have to be tired all the time. Many things can be done to get a good night’s sleep.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. The older adult should go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends or when traveling.
- Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, if possible.
- Develop a bedtime routine. The older adult should take to relax before bedtime each night. Some people read a book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a warm bath before bed.
- Try not to watch television or use a computer, cell phone, or tablet in the bedroom. The light from these devices could make falling asleep more difficult.
- Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature. It The room should not too hot or too cold, and it should be as quiet as possible.
- Use low lighting in the evenings, as you prepare for bed.
- Exercise at regular times each day but not within three hours of your bedtime.
- Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime. Late meals can keep a person awake.
- Stay away from caffeine late in the day. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate) can cause a person to stay awake.
- Remember — alcohol doesn’t help with sleep. While many people believe that consuming alcohol helps, the truth is that even small amounts can actually make it harder to stay asleep.
Conditions that affect sleep
Some older adults have conditions that directly affect their ability to go to sleep and the quality of their sleep. Such conditions include sleep apnea, movement disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease.
People with sleep apnea have short pauses in breathing while they are asleep. These pauses may happen many times during the night. If not treated, sleep apnea can lead to other problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke, or memory loss.
A person can have sleep apnea and not even know it. However, feeling sleepy during the day and snoring loudly at night are signs of the condition.
If you think you or a person you care for might have sleep apnea, see a doctor who can treat this condition.
Restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder are common in older adults. These movement disorders can rob a person of needed sleep.
People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) feel sensations of tingling, crawling, or “pins and needles” in one or both legs. This feeling gets worse at night. See a doctor for more information about medicines to treat RLS.
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) causes people to jerk and kick their legs every 20 to 40 seconds during sleep. Medication, warm baths, exercise, and relaxation methods can help.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder is another condition that may make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. During normal REM sleep, your muscles cannot move, so your body stays still. But, if you have REM sleep behavior disorder, your muscles can move and your sleep is disrupted.
Alzheimer’s disease often changes a person’s sleeping habits. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease sleep too much; others don’t sleep enough. Some people wake up many times during the night; others wander or yell at night.
The person with Alzheimer’s disease isn’t the only one who loses sleep. Caregivers might have sleepless nights as well, leaving them tired for the challenges they face.
If you’re caring for someone with Azheimer’s disease, take these steps to make him or her safer and help you sleep better at night:
- Make sure the floor is clear of objects.
- Lock up any medicines.
- Attach grab bars in the bathroom.
- Place a gate across the stairs.
Also consider getting help from outside sources. For more information on how Care & Comfort at Home can help, click HERE to view our services, click HERE to learn more about us, and click HERE to contact us today. We can also be reached by phone: 630-333-9262.
Information courtesy of the National Institute on Aging (NIA).