Insomnia in the Elderly

31 March, 2021 / Mateusz

Insomnia is one of the most common health problems in the elderly. Women are more likely to complain about this ailment, but that doesn’t mean that men aren’t affected as well. What do we mean by sleep problems? Both the quality of sleep and its length and the time it takes to fall asleep. Many factors influence this condition, including biological, social, environmental, and mental factors. Sleep is one of the basic needs of every person, just like good nutrition. The lack of effective rest causes chronic fatigue, which leads to various diseases. That is why it is so important to take care of proper sleep at any age!

Causes of Insomnia

Biological changes are the main cause of sleep disorders because with age, our need for sleep changes. Older people no longer need 7-8 hours of sleep, but only 6 or so. We are talking about evening rest, which should be uninterrupted, long, and effective. Therefore, it is not recommended for seniors to take a nap during the day, as they can drastically disrupt the quality of rest at night.

What do we call insomnia? When a senior has persistent sleep problems for three weeks, e.g., often wakes up at night, cannot fall asleep, or is tired after waking up, it is necessary to check if the diagnosis could be insomnia. It is important to ask what the cause could be. Undoubtedly, chronic diseases, typical in the elderly, affect this. Back pain, joint pain, bladder pressure – all inhibit the person from relaxing. There are also symptoms associated with impaired function of the respiratory system (shortness of breath) or cardiovascular system (pain in the sternum area). Mental problems – anxiety, depression, or dementia – can also wake a person up at night. Medicines taken by the elderly quite often affect their quality of sleep (e.g., beta-blockers, corticosteroids, amantadine, phenytoin, levodopa, or fluoroquinolones). Therefore, it is necessary to try to treat these disorders naturally in the first place. In the following part of the article, we will present treatments that may regulate these disorders.

Sleep hygiene

Very often, the elderly neglect proper sleep hygiene. In order to be able to fall asleep quickly and enjoy a long, uninterrupted sleep, seniors need to prepare properly for rest. Why do they forget such an important element of their daily routine? It is related to changes in their routine. Seniors who retire should not change their habits – the length of sleep, the hours of rest, and wake-up time should remain consistent. Extending the day through artificial means contributes to sleep problems, and often we do that by watching TV late at night or using other blue-light-emitting equipment, which further stimulates our body. It is important that seniors avoid hard-to-digest foods and strong coffee or tea before bedtime. In addition, it is important to have proper physical activity during the day – frequent walks, gymnastics, or practising a chosen sport. Rituals associated with evening rest are valuable. It is important to introduce a routine that will encourage sleep. It can be a relaxing bath, listening to relaxing music, or meditation. It is also important to ventilate the bedroom earlier so that the temperature is slightly lower than in other rooms because it helps us fall asleep easily. Use the right duvet – the best solution is a weighted blanket, which further facilitates falling asleep and supports long, uninterrupted sleep. Sleeping pills should only be used when natural methods fail. Even then, such solutions should be avoided when possible, since often these drugs create dependency and burden the body with chemical elements.

How to get a good night’s sleep

We have compiled some recommendations for the elderly to help them get adequate sleep. Let’s dive in:

  • Make sure that the optimal temperature in the bedroom is neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Make sure that the bed is comfortable, there is adequate darkness, and avoid noise.
  • Place the clock in the bedroom in such a way that it is not visible from the bed.
  • Go to bed and get up in the morning at consistent times.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping and sex.
  • Go to bed when you feel sleepy.
  • Before falling asleep, think about the positive aspects of life. Try not to think about your problems.
  • When you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, leave your bed, do something that relaxes you, and when you feel tired and drowsy, return to the bedroom and try to fall asleep again.
  • Do not go to bed during the day, do not take a nap (one nap lasting no more than 30 minutes in the early afternoon is allowed).
  • Exercise regularly, but avoid excessive physical exertion and increased mental activity 3 hours before going to bed.
  • Do not consume caffeine, alcohol or smoke cigarettes 4-6 hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals and excessive fluids before falling asleep (at least 3 hours before rest).
  • Avoid strong, bright light (TV or computer) in the evening.
  • Avoid watching exciting videos before falling asleep.

Proper sleep provides us with well-being, gives our body the opportunity to regenerate, and helps us feel rested and happy. Let’s take care of sleep at all ages!