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Sleep Problems In The Elderly


Managing sleep problems in the elderly often presents one of the biggest challenges to home caregivers. Finding ways to help our seniors to rest better often reduces stress for them and for us.


To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.”

—Tia Walker


Our parents, as they grow older need us more than ever. They become sick, week and, frail. With these conditions comes the need for more care, more love, more empathy, and most importantly Good Elderly Care.  As human beings, it’s obligatory upon us to take care of our elders because soon we are going to become one too.

But managing the role reversal of caring for the elderly can be very challenging. Aging brings in growing health concerns and many of them start with sleep problems in the elderly. Sleep problems can reduce the quality of life in people over 65 and lead to many problems in the elderly.

As indicated by polls taken by the National Sleep Foundation, 80% percent cases of sleep problems occur in the elderly between 65-84 years of Or, as a lady, you may be suffering from outrageous temperature fluctuations that make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Whatever the reason, sleep is indispensably significant, especially for older adults.

Good sleep is important for older adults to stay healthy. Now, how much sleep is considered good sleep?

As indicated by a study by the University of Oregon published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the experts accept all older adults require six to nine hours to stay fresh and to keep up their highest cognitive abilities.

Sleep problems in the elderly contrarily affect numerous areas of their life including mood, energy levels, immune response, and vision.

 A good night’s sleep is important for physical, emotional, and cognitive health in the elderly. For a better understanding of the sleep problems in the elderly, let’s start with the basics.

Sleep problems in the elderly: What do you call  “normal” sleep?

If you are expecting an exact definition of good sleep or wanting me to draw a line on the number of hours a person has to sleep to wake up fresh the next morning. You might be disappointed because there is no such thing as normal sleep, to begin with.

A report published by  Germany’s Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) found that the normal person sleeps around seven hours every night around the age of 40, while the National Sleep Foundation professed that just six hours of sleep may be suitable for adults somewhere between 26 and 64 years of age.

Normal sleep cycle patterns change for the duration of our lives, as well. As we get older, we for the most part get less sleep — normal sleep durations tumble to around six-and-a-half hours between the ages of 55 and 60, while a solid 80-year-old will commonly sleep around six hours every night, as indicated by the IQWiG.

To put it simply, if we wake up feeling refreshed following a night of sleep and can get past our day without feeling sleepy or excessively drained, we are getting “normal” sleep.

Sleep problems in Elderly people: How sleep changes with age

Sleep typically occurs in several stages. The sleep cycle includes:

  1. Dreamless periods of light and profound sleep – the non- REM phase
  2. Some periods of dynamic dreaming – the REM phase

REM is short for “Rapid eye movement.” This name describes the speedy eye movements observed during profound sleep.  This can be observed in kids and adults when they are deep asleep. During the REM phase, their eyes move to and fro rapidly however their eyelids stay closed. We just dream during the REM phases.

The sleep cycle effect

The sleep cycle is rehashed several times during the night usually every 90 to 110 minutes.  Sleep problems in the elderly, for the most part, might be associated with the general changes in the sleep pattern with aging. Many elderly experiences sleep problems and fail to sleep without frequent awakening in the middle of the night

Older adults usually wake up an average of 3 to 4 times each night. Mainly because less part of the elderly sleep is spent in the REM phase (deep sleep). The slumber breaks usually occur during the last part of the night. The abrupt transitions between sleep and awakening make the elderly feel like they used to sleep better when they were younger.

Apart from a shorter REM phase, some other reasons for this frequent awakening and general sleep problems in the elderly include needing to get up and urinate (nocturia), anxiety, and discomfort or pain from long-term (chronic) illnesses.

Sleep Problems In The Elderly: 

             Primary Sleep Disorders in the elderly

Several sleep problems in older adults are associated with primary sleep disorders.

Primary sleep disorders are those that are not caused by another clinical or psychiatric condition:

  • Insomnia Disorder
  • Hypersomnolence Disorder
  • Narcolepsy
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea-Hypopnea Syndrome
  • Central Sleep Apnea Syndrome
  • The Parasomnias.

Primary sleep disorders may delay sleep onset, cause frequent arousals and awakenings, and advance excessive daytime sleepiness. In rare instances, behaviors exuding from sleep may cause serious injury or health risk to the patient or bed partner.




Sleep Apnea Noisy Snoring, Obesity, Daytime Sleepiness   Has an emotional impact on men more than women

Using tranquilizers can worsen the condition

Restless legs syndrome Engine restlessness and walking at night   Caused mostly due to iron deficiency

Mostly develops with renal failure

Periodic limb movement disorder Kicking of legs during sleep, continual awakening from sleep, daytime sleepiness  Contractions may spread to other muscle groups

may follow during waking periods

REM–behavior disorder Thrashing or seemingly conscious behaviors during sleep   Mostly idiopathic: might cause injury to patient or bed partner


Secondary Sleep Problems In The Elderly

Apart from what’s classified as “Primary” sleep disorders, many older adults experience “secondary” sleep problems, which means their sleep problems are secondary to an underlying medical condition whose principal symptoms are not sleep-related.

Some diseases that can cause sleep problems in the elderly include:

  • Heart and lung conditions that cause difficulty in breathing, such as heart failure and ongoing obstructive pneumonic disease
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease, which causes heartburn symptoms and is caused by late-night meals.
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Urinary problems that cause frequent peeing at night. A large prostate or an overactive bladder can be the reason.
  • Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Neurodegenerative disorders for instance Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Prescription side-effects

If you notice these sleep problems in your parents or other elderly in your home, it’s essential to ensure that any of the above-mentioned health conditions isn’t adding to the issue.  Treating these underlying conditions can significantly improve sleep problems in the elderly.

DID YOU KNOW Sleep problems in the elderly increase the risk of falling?

Studies have discovered that bad sleep quality is associated with a higher risk of falling in the elderly.  Decreased sleep quality because of insomnia, pain, and noise can cause day-time hypersomnolence, trouble focusing, and slowed responses, all adding to the increased risk of falling.

For more information on preventing falls, read our article here.

Sleep Problems In The Elderly:

How You Can Help Your Elderly SLEEP BETTER


33% of the elderly take something to enable them to sleep, these medications can pose genuine risks.  About 50% of older Americans experience difficulty sleeping — and 33% are taking medicines to put them to sleep

These startling statistics point out the seriousness of the sleep problems in the elderly and push us to help them fall asleep without using any harmful pills. After all, sleep is one of our most major needs — straight up there with water and food.

Side effects of over-the-counter medications include confusion, pee retention, and constipation because of the diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in the majority of sedatives.

Here is How you can play your part in solving sleep problems in the elderly:

  • Make a strict sleep schedule for them

    • Then, insist on staying with it, except in special cases such as pain, illness, or extreme sorrow. Reading, soothing music, or a hot bath can help to fall asleep quickly by signaling your body and brain to shut down the business and sleep.
  • Keep gadgets and screens out of their room.

    • The blue light From smartphones, TVs, and laptops put a bad influence on the brain and can meddle with their sleep. Make sure you keep gadgets and screens out of their room every night. Many experts recommend avoiding all such lights and stimulants for at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
  • Limit the consumption of caffeine.

    • High consumption of caffeine often interferes with your ability to sleep at the night. Convince them to avoid espresso, tea, or soda or limit it to earlier in the day. However, if they need a warm drink at night, consider one that is caffeine-free. You might find some good evening tea ideas on the TeaJubilee website.
  • Reduce or eliminate naps during the day.

    • Napping during the late afternoon or evening can throw off their sleep cycle and result in bad sleep later at night. But be considerate of needs, too. Many times, the elderly benefit from a mid-day nap. In fact, it might actually help them relax better at bedtime. Being over-tired often results in sleeplessness and insomnia.
  • Cut back on all liquids late in the day

    • Again, check with the doctor. However, many find that limiting drinks after dinner helps with nighttime sleep. The need to relieve themselves causes them to awaken. Then they might find it difficult to go back to sleep.
  • Talk it out.

    • As proven by researches, just talking to loved ones often helps our loved ones to relax enough to sleep.
  • Keep their bedroom environment quiet, dark, and cool

  • Exercise

    • All exercise helps. However, particularly aerobic activity shows the ability to release chemicals in your body that help more restful sleep. For the elderly having mobility issues, you can plan countless activities that require less movement. Even simple arm and leg movements prove helpful.


Have any of your tips proven useful against sleep problems in the elderly

Please share them with us and we will share them with the world.  If, however, none of your attempts are helping with sleep problems in your elderly. Keep a close check on their sleep patterns and note them down in a sleep journal. Take this journal to a doctor who might recommend other potential help and suggestions.

.sleep problems in the elderly


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