Understanding Sleep Changes in Seniors

Sleep is important for everyone, no matter our age. We all know that feeling we get when either lack of sleep or poor quality sleep has derailed our day.

As we rest, our bodies are able to repair our cells, process the thoughts and memories we created through the day, and boost our immune system, helping us fight off future illness.

As our loved ones age, it is important to pay attention to their sleeping patterns and how they affect day-to-day life–especially if we are in a caregiving role.

Sleeping Seniors

There are connections between the amount of sleep our bodies need and our age. Children and teenagers with growing bodies need more sleep than adults do.

It’s a common misconception that seniors “need” more or less sleep than an average adult. In fact, senior adults need the same amount of sleep as a younger adult, but they often go about a different way of getting their rest.

According to The National Sleep Foundation, “Sleep occurs in multiple stages including dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). The sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night and although total sleep time tends to remain constant, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep.

This image via The National Sleep Foundation is a good example of how our sleep patterns look as we age:

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Ideally, adults and seniors should get between 7.5 – 9 hours of sleep per night. Because of changes to their circadian rhythms, seniors tend to start falling asleep earlier in the evening and waking up earlier in the morning.

However, what is much more important than the amount of sleep is the quality of sleep that your loved one is getting each night.

When Poor Sleep Becomes a Bigger Problem

It is good to educate ourselves on the difference between signs of normal changes in our loved one’s sleeping patterns and symptoms of what could be a cause for concern.

According to NIHSeniorHealth, “older people often sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night, which may be why they may nap more often during the daytime.”

If someone is not getting enough sleep at night, he/she may show signs of depression, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory loss or difficulty concentrating, a higher rate of accidents/clumsiness, weight problems, higher risk of illness, and/or an overall poor quality of life.

Research shows that prolonged sleep problems or disorders can lead to other health problems, such as higher blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, headaches, memory loss, and depression. Many of these health problems are easily treated and may improve once the root cause is determined.

What are the causes of serious sleep problems? There are many factors to consider for each person’s individual situation. Many common reasons for sleep problems in seniors include:  loud snoring, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, hypertension, GERD, physical or mental illness, side effects of prescribed medications, and even a sedentary lifestyle could be a factor in someone’s poor sleep quality.

Treatment for Better Sleep

zblogresident14Research shows that many seniors are less-than-satisfied with their quality of sleep. If you and your loved one feel that finding a treatment for sleep issues is necessary, it is important that a trusted doctor help you decide what solution is best.

For some, a prescribed sleep aid or a routine of sleep therapy might be the ideal option.

For others, once you and your loved one understand more about why he/she is having trouble sleeping, daily routine lifestyle changes might cause a significant improvement in overall wellbeing.

Depending on what is best for your loved one, those changes might include:

  • Eating meals earlier in the day
  • Less liquid intake closer to bedtime
  • Regular exercises, like muscle strengthening exercises or yoga
  • Reducing intake of alcohol, caffeine, and/or nicotine
  • Increased social interaction
  • Less time looking at screens at night (ex: TV, laptop, tablet)
  • Using sleep masks or calming sound machines

While we are not here to diagnose or treat any illness or disease, it is important for us to share information that might be beneficial to others. Please contact a trusted doctor or health professional if you have any concerns about your loved one’s health.

Resources

American Academy of Sleep Medicine – A little bit of exercise can go a long way to improve sleep and wellness

HelpGuide.org – How to Sleep Well as You Age

National Sleep Foundation – Aging and Sleep

NIH:  National Institute on Aging

National Council for Aging Care

If your loved one is one of our residents, we would be happy to sit down with you at any time to discuss his/her overall wellbeing. If you feel that one of our communities would be an ideal fit for your family, please contact us at your earliest convenience for a no-obligation tour.