TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT SLEEP IN THE ELDERLY
February 18, 2021
National Sleep Awareness Week Sheds Light on Benefits & Challenges
Sleep Awareness Week, March 14-20, highlights new findings and research to help those battling a variety of sleep disorders. As you’ve likely experienced within your community, studies show that older adults are commonly affected by difficulties and interruptions in their nightly sleep. The most frequently reported issues are:
- Having trouble falling asleep
- Sleeping fewer hours
- Waking frequently in the night or early morning
- Difficulty getting quality sleep
Disrupted or restless sleep can lead to greater health concerns for seniors including increased risk for falling, daytime fatigue, and even cognitive impairments.
Sleep disorders in the elderly generally fall into two categories: Primary sleep disorders and sleep issues caused by other medical conditions. A primary sleep disorder means there isn’t another medical or psychiatric cause that creates the sleep issue.
Primary sleep disorders
Common primary sleep disorders in older adults can be:
- Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or restless sleep
- Sleep apnea or brief interruptions in breathing during sleep
- Restless leg syndrome—an overwhelming need to move your legs during sleep
- Periodic limb movement disorder, or involuntary movement of the limbs during sleep
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorders or a disrupted sleep-wake cycle
- REM behavior disorder or the vivid acting out of dreams during sleep
Insomnia is both a symptom and disorder. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and dementia can also increase risk for sleep disorders, especially insomnia. However, there are many other medical conditions that can cause sleep disruptions.
Medical Conditions That May Disrupt Sleep:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Chronic pain such as arthritis pain
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Neurological conditions
- Gastrointestinal conditions
- Lung or respiratory conditions
- Poor bladder control
Many older adults are also on medications that can disrupt sleep. Antidepressants, H2 blockers and adrenergic drugs are leading causes of interrupted sleep or difficulty in maintaining consistent restful sleep for weeks at a time. Of course, outside of a controlled medical or care environment, substances like caffeine, alcohol, and smoking may also contribute to sleep problems.
Managing sleep issues in seniors
In contrast to most younger people, many older people report having trouble maintaining a good night’s rest, but not so much falling asleep. These ongoing sleep disorders can lead to larger concerns like depression and risk of falling. Most studies conclude that behavioral therapies for better sleep are preferable to medications, which can have unwanted side effects. This means developing good sleeping habits through sleep education, stimulus control, and time in bed restrictions. Changes can take up to six weeks or more.
If behavior therapies don’t work, then a doctor may prescribe medication or other treatments. However, the medical community advises that sleep medication isn’t a long-term solution. The best therapies and strategies for your sleepless residents include:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day
- Using the bed only for sleep, not other activities like reading or watching TV
- Doing quiet activities, like reading, before bed
- Avoiding bright lights before bed
- Keeping a soothing and comfortable bedroom environment
- Avoiding naps
A study about managing sleep disorders in older adults also suggests limiting liquid before bed, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, eating three to four hours before bedtime, and exercising regularly (but not right before bedtime).
Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is important to maintaining the health of your residents. Further information and ideas for helping those in your care can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Oasis Senior Advisors refers older adults to communities like yours that will meet their care needs, budget and geographical preferences every day. To learn more about how a partnership with your local Oasis advisor can benefit your community, call us at (888) 455-5838.