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Last Updated on November 19, 2019

It is true that younger people can and do suffer from sleep disorders, but sleep problems over 50 can be much more common. Image of a bed for an article about sleep disorders in the elderly.This can be for quite a few reasons. First of all, lack of activity during the day can lead to trouble getting to sleep at night. There is also the problem of excessive sleeping in the elderly, which is commonly found in patients who suffer from depression or dementia. 

There are also myriad problems that can cause elderly sleep deprivation or other problems, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea. Read on to learn more about elderly sleep disorders, how to help prevent them, and what common treatments are available. 

Elderly Sleep Disorders: What Causes Insomnia in the Elderly?

Two main issues affecting the elderly include sleeping too much and not sleeping enough. Both can contribute to health problems in the long term. So the question becomes, why do the elderly have difficulty sleeping when compared to young people? 

There are a few reasons:

  • Lack of activity. Simply put, being an active person makes you naturally tired at the end of the day and it’s easy to fall asleep naturally. 
  • Circadian rhythm shifts. This kind of goes along with lack of activity, but as we age, our Circadian rhythm may shift as we become less active and have less on our plate. Think about a 40-year-old parent who works full-time. This person is on a set schedule and routine, and likely performs the same routine every day, (hopefully), keeping the Circadian rhythm in check. This can easily get thrown off by changes in routine, so the elderly can’t sleep.
  • Medications. Elderly persons may be on medications that interfere with sleep. Heart medications and other drugs can, unfortunately, cause insomnia. 
  • Medical conditions. The elderly may suffer from chronic arthritis or other conditions not completely controlled by medication that interfere with sleep.

What to Do When a Person Who Is Elderly Is Not Sleeping at Night 

One of the best things to do for elderly insomnia and other elderly sleep disorders is to practice healthy sleep habits. Depending on the condition of the patient (such as sleep problems in the elderly with dementia), a caregiver may need to prompt the patient in order to promote healthy sleep. One of the best things to do is to establish routines. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day is important. Avoiding naps, avoiding television, electronics, and bright light before bed can also help.

A quiet activity, such as reading, helps to promote sleep. The patient shouldn’t snack in bed or use the bed for other activities, such as lounging. Limiting liquid intake before bed (especially caffeine and alcohol) is especially important when it comes to elderly sleep deprivation.

Elderly Sleep Disorders: Do Seniors Need More Sleep?

Another common sleep disorder concerns when a patient who is elderly is sleeping too much, not eating, and not practicing good self-care habits. Believe it or not, the patient who seems to be sleeping too much, such as a person who is elderly falling asleep while eating, may also be suffering from insomnia as the root cause. The elderly need seven to nine hours of sleep per day, just like a young adult. However, because of other medical conditions, medications, caffeine or alcohol intake, lack of activity, and all of the reasons mentioned above, they’re not getting that quality sleep at night. Because of this, they tend to doze off and nap more during the day, which makes it seem like a person who is elderly is sleeping all the time. Truly, the best way to curtail this is also to practice healthy sleep habits, thus limiting elderly sleep disorders.

Elderly Sleep Disorders: What to Do When Changing Habits Isn’t Enough

In some cases, simply practicing better sleep habits, such as turning off lights and TV, isn’t going to improve elderly sleep disorders. In this case, it’s a good idea to have the patient’s physician refer them to a sleep study. Here, a sleep specialist and his/her team can get a good look at why the patient is having trouble sleeping. They may suffer from restless legs disorder (RLS), sleep apnea, or another issue.

RLS is easily treated with dopamine agonists such as Requip, while sleep apnea can be controlled with a CPAP machine. Each person’s sleep disorder will be different, but a sleep study can typically find a definitive reason why there is a lack of sleep or too much sleep.

For more information about elderly sleep disorders or to learn how mobility products, such as power lift recliners or wheelchair ramps, can be life-changing for yourself or a patient, contact Williams Lift Co. today. We want patients and their caregivers to live their best lives possible.

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