Insomnia in the Elderly

Sleep deprivation is common in the elderly and can lead to severe health problems.

Sleeping is essential for restoring the energy needed for everyday tasks. Without regular sleeping patterns, it is very difficult to focus on the world around you. Insomnia is also known to cause depression and memory loss.

According to studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, around half of older adults aged 60 and above suffer from sleep deprivation. One night without sleep is not a problem, but the condition can last for weeks or even years.

The Amount of Sleep You Need Every Night

When we are babies, we tend to sleep up to 16 hours a day. These hours drop as we age, and in our teen years, the optimum is around 9 hours. Scientists state that an adult needs a minimum of 7 hours every night, and anything beyond 9 hours is too much. Older adults have the same needs, too.

The quality of sleep is as essential as quantity. The sleeping cycle consists of two main phases:

  • Non-rapid eye movement phase
  • Rapid eye movement phase

During the REM phase, we dream, and the eyes move around rapidly. The whole cycle lasts for about half an hour, and it repeats throughout the night.

insomnia in the elderly

In the elderly, sleep is not as strong as it used to be when younger. This means the REM phase is shorter, and this can gradually lead to poor sleeping habits.

What Causes Insomnia

Besides natural changes our body goes through, there are also other factors to be considered:

  • stress
  • alcohol consumption
  • coffee intake
  • smoking habits
  • depression
  • pain
  • dementia
  • medications

Stress is a common reason for sleeping issues. When you worry about something or someone, it affects your whole being. Also when you are in pain or suffering from depression or memory problems, it can make it difficult to fall asleep.

Drinking alcohol can help you doze off, but it has a negative impact on the REM phase. Anything containing caffeine will keep you awake at night and shouldn’t be consumed in the evening hours.

Have you started taking new medications and suddenly can’t fall asleep easily at night? Check out the list of side effects and consult your doctor.

How to Treat Sleep Deprivation

First and foremost, never take sleeping pills without consulting a physician. Sleeping pills may not be safe and can cause addiction.

Fighting insomnia is a process. Try to go to bed at approximately the same time every night. Also, there shouldn’t be huge differences in your wake time.

Choose a comfortable bed to sleep on. Make sure the room is not close to a busy street. Put the blinds down and turn off every light source.

Regular exercising helps fighting insomnia as well. However, be physically active at least 4 hours prior to bedtime.

Avoid coffee and alcohol before going to sleep. Huge meals should be eaten for lunch, not for dinner. If you like to take a nap during the daytime, it might mean you will struggle to fall asleep at night.

Insomnia is common in the elderly. It can’t be cured overnight, so you need to be patient and follow the instructions listed above. If possible, avoid sleeping pills. They can be dangerous—seniors can become dependent on them. Be physically active, establish regular sleeping patterns, make your bedroom comfortable, avoid caffeine, and you will be on the way to getting rid of insomnia.


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