If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, it’s likely you’ve had to deal with sleep disorders at one time or another. Home health care professionals are trained to sort through the confusing information provided by seniors when they try to describe the reasons for sleeplessness. It’s also important for family caregivers to understand the many reasons why a senior’s sleep patterns might be disrupted. That way, they’ll know when sleep issues can be handled with lifestyle and diet changes, or if a trip to the doctor is needed.
The Need for Sleep Changes With Age
Sleep disorders are just one of the many changes that happen as the human body ages. The need for deep, restful sleep for a teenager is completely different than for a senior citizen. There’s also a wide variation from one person to another that makes generalizations about sleep difficult. What is known for sure is that seniors require somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes less sleep than younger people, and require increasingly less as they grow older.
It’s not just the duration of sleep that changes over time. Senior citizens have shorter periods of deep sleep, and they may wake up several times every night for no reason. This is a profound change in sleeping patterns for most people, which can lead to a feeling that something is very wrong. It’s important for home health care workers and loved ones to reassure seniors that this is normal, and it isn’t necessarily a reason to seek medical treatment.
When It’s Not Age-Related
Because sleep is harder to come by for the elderly, it’s important to guard against disruptions that might make sleeping hours less restful than they might be. There are many signs that a home health care aide or other caregiver can look for when sleep patterns become very unusual. These include things like a lack of proper exercise, side effects from medications, pain from chronic conditions like arthritis, or depression.
Another common culprit when seniors can’t sleep is caffeine. Beverages like coffee and tea should be restricted to earlier in the day to avoid sleeplessness in the evening. Don’t overlook the caffeine in soft drinks, either. One fully caffeinated soda at dinnertime can still be delivering a sleep-depriving boost as many as six hours later.
You’ll need to consult a doctor about chronic pain relief and medication side effects, but avoiding caffeine and increasing daytime activity is easily undertaken by reminders from a home health care aide or loved one.
Proactive Advice for Problem Sleepers
An inability to drift off to sleep is not the only problem for seniors. The quality of sleep is just as important as the total amount of time spend in bed. There are several things that home health care workers and family members can suggest to make sure that a senior citizen is making the most of the sleep they do get:
It’s important for senior citizens to get enough nourishing food every day. In-home health care services stress the importance of a balanced diet. It’s also better to avoid eating at erratic times, especially just before going to bed. Lying down right after eating can result in uncomfortable gastric reflux that’s bound to disrupt sleep.
Restrict Caffeine and Alcohol
It’s not just caffeine that disrupts sleep. Alcohol consumed close to bedtime can affect the quality of a night’s rest in unusual ways. While some people respond to a late-night cocktail with drowsiness, it can have undesirable effects, too, like waking in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
Don’t Watch TV in Bed
You don’t watch television while you’re asleep. Your body responds to signals in its environment to get cues about what it should be doing. Watching television in bed tells your body that bed is a place to be awake. Even if the programs are boring enough to put you to sleep, a sudden noise on the program can jolt you wide awake soon after, and the adrenaline rush it causes might be enough to keep you awake for hours after.
Get Tired First
Many senior citizens tire easily, and they begin to avoid physical activity completely. This can lead to a completely sedentary lifestyle. Assisted home care workers and family members should make sure seniors get as much exercise as possible to make sure they’re tired enough to sleep deeply when bedtime rolls around.
When it’s difficult to fall asleep, seniors can begin to dread bedtime. Try the easy tips mentioned above, and you’ll be on your way to getting the most sleep possible, and you’ll restore the feeling of pleasant anticipation that bedtime should bring.