Seniors and Sleep: What You Need to Know
Learn why sleep troubles strike and how caregivers and seniors can help alleviate them.
Sleep is important at every age, especially for seniors who need to be well rested in order to combat illness and make the most of their retirement. Insomnia, however, is a common condition affecting the elderly, which can lead to physical and emotional complications.
How much sleep do seniors need?
It is a myth that seniors need less sleep than the rest of the population. In fact, research shows that adults need a consistent level of sleep throughout their lives, from their early twenties to their senior years. The amount of sleep a person needs varies depending on individual factors, but most adults require approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Seniors, however, may have a different sleep schedule than most adults, as they tend to become tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.
Why do seniors have trouble sleeping?
Sleep occurs in several different stages, the most restorative of which is REM sleep. Unfortunately, seniors tend to experience a decrease in REM sleep, as well as increased difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Seniors suffer from insomnia for many reasons; certain medications and health issues can make it difficult to sleep, as can emotional unease or anxiety surrounding the challenges of aging. Common ailments that cause sleep deprivation for seniors are arthritis, restless leg syndrome and frequent urination.
Sleep apnea is one of the most serious causes of disrupted sleep. Most commonly developed in older age, sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing while asleep. These pauses in breathing can range from a few seconds to a few minutes. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and heart failure. If a senior displays signs of loud snoring, consistent sleepiness, morning headaches, restless sleep or waking up with a choking sensation, it is important to immediately consult a health care professional. There are several treatments for sleep apnea, including lifestyle changes and surgery, as well as machines that can facilitate breathing.
How can seniors get a better sleep?
It is important for caregivers to ensure that seniors have an optimal environment for sleeping, by eliminating sunlight and loud noises, avoiding alcohol or caffeine late in the day, and turning off televisions and technology before bed. If sleep issues persist, the first step is to identify their source. Talk to a doctor about any health conditions or medications that could be affecting a senior’s sleep quality, and see if any adjustments can be made. A sedentary lifestyle is a significant contributor to fatigue. Make an effort to incorporate physical activity into a senior’s daily routine in order to promote a longer, deeper sleep. Emotional factors, such as stress or depression, can also disrupt a senior’s ability to sleep. If you suspect a senior is suffering from anxiety or unhappiness, consult a health care professional in order to arrange the appropriate care. By tackling the environmental, physical and emotional issues contributing to sleep loss, caregivers can help seniors achieve a restful night’s sleep.
Sleep is an important antidote to many issues; it can help seniors manage pain, avoid illness and enjoy a higher quality of life. We hope seniors and their caregivers feel better prepared to understand, identify and cope with sleep difficulties. If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to ask us in the comments.
Sleep tips for seniors
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