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Insomnia in the Elderly

Posted on July 24, 2017 with 0 comments

It’s normal to have a restless night or two when you’re stressed about something. It becomes worrisome when you spend more nights awake than asleep, something that is likely to happen as you age.

The lack of sleep becomes a source of frustration that constantly interferes in your lives. The inability to sleep prevents your body from re-energizing yourself mentally and physically while maintaining your well-being.

Nowadays insomnia is a common problem amongst people of all ages, it’s even very prominent amongst the elderly too. In the US, almost half the population above the age of 60yrs old are affected by insomnia according to the National Institute of Health.

Insomnia is much more than the inability to sleep as it can last from a few days to many years. As it becomes a long-term issue it begins to affect physical health and can lead to memory loss, irritability, anxiety, and depression.

A good night’s sleep

The required hours of sleep to remain healthy change throughout an individual’s life. When babies are born, they can sleep up to 16 hours. Children need around 9 hours. Adults will require 7-9 hours of sleep to function optimally; seniors too require the same amount of rest. However, after a certain age, adults seem to have shorter sleep cycles and often find themselves up much earlier than they need to be.

Research has found that elder individuals are much lighter sleepers compared to their younger counterparts. They also spend less time in REM sleep. This change in sleep patterns is an expected part of aging but other health issues can also have an impact.

Symptoms of Insomnia

Insomnia can be easily identified by loved ones. At night, if elders have difficulty in sleeping after 30-45mins staying in bed, if their sleep is very light and even if they experience night falls, they are likely suffering from insomnia.

During the day you’ll find them exhausted, easily agitated and depressed. You may also notice that they have problems remembering things and that they have trouble concentrating due to sheer exhaustion.

Causes of Insomnia

• Stress and anxiety are the leading causes of insomnia. An elderly individual has numerous reasons to be stressed about, whether it’s their declining health or it’s their struggle to make ends meet.

• Poor sleep hygiene is usually a problem for elders who are ill and who can no longer clean themselves. For example, the discomfort of wearing adult diapers can stop an elder person from sleeping.

• Eating/Drinking stimulants is a reason many elders stay up when they should be sleeping. Everyone should stop consuming caffeinated beverages around bedtime.

• Alcohol Consumption can cause you to feel tired initially due to its sedative properties. However, it later hampers REM, causing you stay up.

• Types of medication can prevent an individual from sleeping, especially amongst seniors.

• Depression is both a cause and effect amongst people who have insomnia.

• The need to visit the bathroom frequently is a major cause of insomnia when it comes to seniors.

Treating insomnia

• Exercise is the best and healthiest way of inducing sleep in the evening. It balances your hormones by lowering stress hormones and promotes happy hormones. Caregivers and loved ones should try and get their elders to exercise every morning. Avoid exercising near their bedtime.

• Ensure that elders are comfortable when they are about to go to bed. Make their surroundings comfortable, quiet and dark.

• Prior to tucking seniors in, do activities that calm their senses. This can be getting them into a warm bath, reading to them and playing them soothing music.

• Caffeinated beverages should be avoided near bedtime, along with heavy meals and too many fluids.

• Naps should be limited during the day. If they spend too much time sleeping during the day, they are likely to stay up during the night.

• Seniors should not be doing any activities that exerts their minds as bedtime approaches. Do not let them work or watch television before bed.

• Be careful of sleeping pills. They may look like quick fixes to a problem but seniors are inclined to become over-reliant on them and abuse them.

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