Proven Ways to Overcome Elderly Sleep Disorders

Can you believe humans spend 1/3 of their life in a state of sleep? No wonder it has such a significant effect on our health! Sleep habits are essential at any age, but they become more critical as we grow older. 

For the elderly to feel fresh, cheerful, and energetic during the day, they should have a night of adequate sleep because insufficient and inappropriate sleep can gradually cause physical and mental disorders.

What are the effects?

There is scientific evidence that proper sleep, consistent with our body’s biological clock at any age, helps to properly cleanse the brain of waste products harmful to its functioning. For this reason, if a person’s sleep is not adequate during life, particularly in old age, the brain gradually loses its ability to function, and their quality of life decreases.

Studies have shown that dysfunctional sleep causes the brain to degenerate more rapidly and increases the risk of neurocognitive decline and Alzheimer‘s. People can have sleep disorders at any age, but we will continue to address the elderly who do not get enough sleep and their problems in this article.

If the person sleeps less than 3.5 hours, they suffer from sleep deprivation. However, if the person sleeps more than 8.5 hours, they are oversleeping. Evidence suggests that a chronic pattern of oversleeping or excessive sleep deprivation can reduce life expectancy and increases premature mortality.

Types of Sleep Disorders

Worried Senior Man In Bed At Night Suffering With Insomnia and sleep disorder

When older people are asked about their sleep patterns, they often exaggerate and complain about insomnia or oversleeping. Simultaneously, the doctor finds out more closely that the older adult has a relatively good night’s sleep and only thinks that they are not getting a good night’s sleep. For example, he sleeps lightly but believes he has not slept at all. Although these people complain of insomnia, they do not feel tired during the day and can go about their daily activities with the utmost energy.
Such people do not need particular intervention and constant follow-up, and the problem can be solved only with straightforward advice and reassurance to the elderly. Sometimes, symptoms indicate a serious problem and are the signs of sleep disorders in the elderly.

Three Types of Sleep Disorders:

  • Having a problem falling asleep: Some seniors have difficulties falling asleep, and it takes a long time to sleep after they get into bed.
  • Having a problem maintaining sleep: In this type of disorder, a person falls asleep but wakes up after a few hours and can no longer sleep. It may be due to sleep deprivation, mood disorders, or depression.
  • Problems in the sleep rhythm: In this condition, the elderly fall asleep earlier than others and wake up earlier too; it means that they are awake during the hours when the family members are sleeping, and vice versa.

Older people require less time to sleep compared to young and middle-aged people. If young and middle-aged people need 6-9 hours of sleep, this amount is 6.5-7 hours for the elderly. The best time for the elderly to sleep is at night, and they must go to bed at a specific time with a regular schedule and get up at a particular time.

Cause of Insomnia in the Elderly

The cause of insomnia in the elderly might be primary or secondary.

  • Primary insomnia: No known cause for insomnia can be found in primary insomnia. Of course, psychiatric reasons are more important than other causes in these cases. Psychiatric disorders, such as depression, mania, anxiety, etc., can cause sleep disturbances. If it is proven that the patient suffers from a psychiatric disorder, the problem of sleep deprivation will be solved by treating the condition in many cases.
  • Secondary insomnia: In secondary insomnia, there are reasons such as the elderly suffering from various diseases such as infectious diseases, heart, kidney, cancer, chronic pain, and antidepressants.

Daily sleep helps the brain function better.

The elderly should sleep between 1:00 – and 3:00 in the afternoon. The elderly should not sleep after 6 PM as it may interfere with nighttime sleep. 

In most cases, particularly in the elderly, insomnia is a disorder that occurs due to a health problem. In some cases, addressing the issue of primary hygiene will ultimately be a cure for insomnia. Sleep problems such as insomnia and nightmare can also be linked to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. While the underlying cause of insomnia may not be treatable, some treatments can help people with dementia find their insomnia cure.

Recommendations for Sound Sleep for the Seniors

  • Go to the bedroom at a fixed time.
  • Make the lights dim and create a relaxing environment for sleeping.
  • Do not use the bedroom to watch TV, work with the Internet, eat, etc.
  • Limit the consumption of foods such as tea, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, foods containing colourants and additives. Limit these foods after 6 PM.
  • Consume foods such as yogurt and milk that contain a substance called tryptophan after 6 PM. Tryptophan contributes to the quality of sleep at night.
  • Limit Fluid intake after 6:00 PM. Excessive fluid intake and bloating force the elderly to wake up to use the bathroom. That can lead to fragmentation of sleep and a decline in its quality.
  • Don’t eat heavy and fatty foods in the evening and at night. That causes the stomach acid to return, which is a factor in staying awake. There should be at least 2 hours between the time of the last meal and sleep.
  • Increase physical and mental activity during the day because it helps you sleep better at night.
  • If you cannot sleep after going to bed, get out of bed, and entertain yourself with something until you feel sleepy.
  • Do not change your sleeping place. 
  • The bedroom should not be cold or hot.
  • If you have pain or a chronic illness, treat it under the doctor’s supervision to reduce sleep problems.
  • Use relaxation techniques at the beginning of sleep, particularly for the elderly who suffer from anxiety.

Symptoms of Insomnia and Poor Quality Sleep in the Elderly

Sick senior woman with headache, fatigue, lack of sleep and insomnia

Symptoms include aggression, headaches during the day, irritability, stress, changes in functioning and social relationships, impaired memory and attention, impaired speech and rhythm of speech, impaired emotion control, difficulty making decisions, problem-solving, and planning. Insomnia aggravates cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, etc.

First, it is necessary to determine the patient’s history of insomnia with correct history and careful examination to treat insomnia. Treatment should be considered based on whether there is a mental or physical disorder. Treatment can be pharmacological and non-pharmacological. 

In any case, the medication must be prescribed by a doctor. And sleeping pills should not be taken recklessly since they are addictive. It should also be noted that taking these drugs for a long time leads to losing their effectiveness.

These drugs are helpful in the short term but would cause problems in the long time. Doctors usually do not prescribe sleeping pills for more than two weeks. Sleeping pills should be discontinued gradually, and abrupt discontinuation may cause side effects such as increased insomnia or anxiety.

Conclusion

Sleep disorder is a distressing issue, but it can be treated. If you think your loved one has this disorder, consult a doctor. 

The good news is that most doctors consider cognitive and behavioural therapies, such as relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, and behavioural therapy, very effective. These treatments are time-consuming but are usually very safe and productive. 

More Resources:

Source onlinelibrary healthline helpguide
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Jim
Jim
1 year ago

Thank you. I rarely wake up during the nights, but it’s tough for me to go to sleep. Now that I’ve read this, I know maybe it’s because I drink tea at night, and the last thing I do when I go to bed is checking my phone. I should find a way to stop doing these things.

Liliane
Liliane
Reply to  Jim
8 months ago

Dear Jim, I’ve had the same problem for the past year, and it’s absolutely irritating. Waking up several times during sleep causes you not to have deep sleeping, and in the morning, you feel tired as if you haven’t slept at all. For me drinking more water during the day and also a glass of herbal tea has been working, not entirely, but my sleep has improved a bit.

Roberts
Roberts
1 year ago

I don’t remember sleeping for more than 5 hours a day, even when I was younger. And I’ve never had headaches either! Besides, I always fall asleep when the tv is on. It’s impossible for me to fall asleep in a quiet place.

Marshall
Marshall
Reply to  Roberts
9 months ago

I was like you, Roberts; I had irregular sleep hours and fell asleep with the TV on when I was in my fifties. Make sure your room is comfortable, dim and quiet, and learn new bedtime habits to help you sleep. I became more sensitive to noise, light and heat as I aged. By not watching TV, your brain will understand that you need to relax whenever you are in your bedroom and also worrying that you can not get back to sleep only makes your body remain sleepless. I feel much better now.

jack
jack
1 year ago

As far as I remember, I’ve had lots of difficulties sleeping since I was a child. And this has gone worse as I’m getting older. I’ve tried a wide variety of ways, from different kinds of pills to meditation before sleep. However, most of them worked for no more than a couple of weeks. I’m totally frustrated. Is there any unique or empirical solution for it?

Jepeto
Jepeto
1 year ago

I think reading books before sleeping is the best activity. Because our mind gets tired and we can get sleep very soon. I can suggest some comic books to the users of this site. Or if you have a fun partner, you can play chess or backgammon with them and then try to sleep.

Oscar
Oscar
Reply to  Jepeto
10 months ago

I can’t agree more! Anything related to reading before bed can help sleep better, like doing some paperwork, correspondence, or even writing letters or emails.

Mia
Mia
10 months ago

Well, of course, there are tons of remedies to cure this, and it’s up to you what you choose. But for me, herbal remedies did a fine job fixing fix it. Valerian deep sleep tea is the most dependable and the safest source to deal with sleep issues.
I have been drinking this tea since last month and can sense the change in my sleeping routine. It’s a mixture of organic herbs, so don’t worry about any side effects. Try it once. You might love it.

Ariapp
Ariapp
9 months ago

My aunt suffers from insomnia. She should read this informative article. Thanks a million!

Trevor. NL
Trevor. NL
8 months ago

For many years, I was a chronic insomniac. What I’ve discovered that works for me are proper sleep hygiene (as previously discussed) plus a ritual of chamomile tea (Stash Chamomile Nights), valerian root for relaxation, and lemon balm to calm my mind.

Mary
Mary
8 months ago

Well, thanks for this article. It’s been a month that I barely slept due to my chronic anxiety. Nothing has helped me; no pills, no drinks, no books. I’m fed up with staying awake and overthinking. However, I have no choice; I’m going to try the above recommendations.

Ethan
Ethan
Reply to  Mary
8 months ago

Hi Mary. I’m sorry to hear you’re having problems sleeping. I’ve realized that whenever I’m looking at my phone or any other screen right before bedtime, I won’t be able to sleep as easily. So it’s always better to stop using any pieces of technology around an hour before going to bed. Another thing I find helpful is playing relaxing music for 45 minutes before sleep. I recommend searching Lo-fi music on youtube and using their playlists.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ethan
Lucas
Lucas
6 months ago

Such a helpful article! Let me tell you about my own experience. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer from a severe sleep disorder. Still, I remember a time when my sleep routine got disrupted. It was a stressful period of my life, so it took hours for me to go to sleep after lying in bed. So it was a challenge to fall asleep before 3 am. As an obvious result, I couldn’t wake up before noon! My Dr told me to take a melatonin to reregulate my sleep hours, and it worked indeed! I highly recommend melatonin for those in the same situation. It’s a miracle!

James
James
4 months ago

As an older person with experience in sleeplessness, I recommend these:
Avoid coffee and tea or lower the number of cups. After 4 pm avoid fresh chocolates, coco-cola and alcoholic drinks.
Go for a 10 to 20 mins walk after dinner someplace nearby.
Have supper before 8 pm.
Have more starch for better sleep, like rice or potatoes or bread.
Drink lots of water if you have wheat-based meals. Wheat foods cause dehydration of muscles and leg discomfort. The leg twitching or restless legs may keep you awake.
Wear comfortable cotton clothes.
And sleep in a disturbance-free bedroom.