Seniors and Sleep
Equal Sleep for Everyone!
Remember when you were 20 and could pull an all-nighter studying, working, getting chores done, or partying with friends? As we age, the stamina to carry on through our day when we don’t get enough Zs wanes. In seniors, the problems with sleep deprivation can be even more exacerbated for a number of reasons; medications, sun downers syndrome, and pain related to illness or injury can keep aging adults up at night and have serious implications. Adults over the age of 65 need just as much sleep as younger adults – about 7 to 9 hours a night. But many seniors get less, or much more sleep than they need. Here is what some common sleep problems are, the causes, and some possible solutions to ensure you or your loved ones gets a healthy amount of sleep each night:
1) Too Little Sleep
The Culprits: Could be the same problems ailing younger, sleep-deprived adults such as insomnia or sleep apnea. For seniors though, a common culprit can also be chronic pain, such as achy bones due to arthritis.
Some solutions: Talk to your doctor if you have pain that keeps you up at night. They may be able to prescribe you with nighttime painkillers to help you sleep through the night. If you have trouble falling asleep due to insomnia or delayed sleep phase (you can fall and stay asleep, but your sleep pattern starts at a very late hour, such as 2 or 3 in the morning) that interferes with your schedule, you can try over-the-counter solutions or have a doctor prescribe you with sleep aids. Like with any medicine, follow your doctors’ orders and be mindful of the dosage you are supposed to take.
2) Napping Too Much
The Culprits: Like with the above scenario, not getting enough sleep at night can lead us, if we have the time, to take a much-needed nap during the day. Catching a nap is a great idea for seniors to recharge their batteries and keep them energized throughout the day. It becomes a problem when most of their day is taken up with sleeping. Sleeping a lot throughout the day is common with some medical conditions like dementia, but can lead seniors to sleeping through mealtimes and trips to the bathroom.
Some solutions: Set aside 1-2 hours for your nap if you take one, and set an alarm for when you are supposed to get up. Better yet, schedule an activity you love to do right after your nap so you can look forward to walking up after a short rest.
If your loved one has dementia: Talk to their doctor about the best way to handle the situation. It often depends on the stage and type of dementia, and the individual.
3) Drowsy Medicine
The Culprits: Medicine with side effects such as drowsiness. These medications can range from sleep aids mentioned above to anti-psychotics
Some Solutions: First, always remember to NEVER go off a prescribed medication without consulting your doctor first! Ask your doctor if you or your senior can take drowsy medication only at night to aid in sleep. If not, ask if there is a similar medication that won’t make you or your senior drowsy during the day.
4) Feeling Blue all the time
The Culprit: Depression can cause your sleep cycle to go out of whack. Depression is not just sadness; it is characterized by a loss of interest in activities, feeling “low” – “down” feelings, lower energy than usual, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Some solutions: Depressions is a serious medical condition and needs treatment. Treatment can range from getting more exercise and eating more nutritious food to professional counselling and medication. Talk to a doctor about seeking treatment for any mental illness. However, note that many seniors are from a generation where getting psychiatric help was frowned upon and getting this much-needed help was seen as shameful rather than normal and healthy. Remind yourself (if you’re from this generation) or your senior that it’s OK to seek help, and we’ve learned better than to ignore mental and emotional unhealthiness as time has gone on. Would you ignore it and try to “tough it out” if you had pneumonia? Why would you for Depression?
5) Undiscovered Health Issues
The Culprit: Could be serious, such as an oncoming heart attack or a stroke.
Sone solutions: If all else fails, if you have tried everything else, look into seeing a specialist or getting tested for undiscovered health problems such as irregular heartbeat or an oncoming health catastrophe. Sleep can tell you a lot about your health, so if you are having unresolved sleep problems, talk to your doctor about what else could be going on.