We’ve said before that sleep is nature’s wonder drug, as it keeps important processes in motion, and is a crucial function for everyone regardless of age. The average person spends about a third of their life sleeping, but as we age, there are multiple factors that can hinder a restful night’s sleep or prevent sleep altogether.
Studies show that half of older adults report experiencing some form of difficulty sleeping, from trouble falling asleep, to wakefulness during the night, or most notably, insomnia. Lack of sleep can become a serious problem when it goes on too long. Symptoms like sluggishness, slow reaction times, headaches, and other effects of insufficient sleep worsen over time and can have a greater negative impact on older adults. What are some of the things that prevent older adults from getting the sleep they need, and what can be done about it?
Factors that affect sleep of older adults:
- Exposure to daylight
- Sunlight is a crucial element in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle of the body’s processes. Many elders, especially those in nursing homes, get insufficient light exposure which can imbalance the circadian rhythm.
- Health conditions
- Deteriorations in health are a common part of the aging process. Certain conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or anxiety and depression, may disrupt the quality and quantity of sleep. In addition, aches and pains that accompany the natural aging process may be severe enough to disrupt sleep.
- With increased, often comorbid, health conditions come medications to assist. The side effects of certain medications can affect sleep.
- Nightly disruptions
- Sleep occurs in stages, the durations of which tend to shift as we age. Older adults often spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than deep REM sleep, which may cause them to awaken during the night. Alternatively, drinking too many fluids before bed can result in needing to use the bathroom, making it harder to fall back to sleep.
- While brief afternoon naps can be delightful, napping for extended periods during the day can hinder the body’s ability to fall asleep at night.
5 ways to improve sleep:
- It seems like the answer to everything is more exercise. But really, exercise keeps the body active and healthy and can improve a vast array of physical and mental health conditions, including sleep. Exercising in the morning or afternoon can be massively beneficial for sleep; however, physical activity too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect.
- Avoid substances that can hinder sleep
- Substances like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine too soon before bed can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm and create fragmented sleep or disrupt the ability to fall asleep altogether.
- Comfortable sleep environment
- Discomfort in the bed or bedroom, like noises or an inadequate mattress, for example, can add up to massive sleep disruptors. Make sure the sleeping space is comfortable with things like ideal temperature, a sleep mask for optimal darkness, white noise from a phone app or a fan to drown out noises, enough pillows and blankets, and maybe even stuffed animals. Whatever makes the space more cozy.
- Avoid heavy meals and fluids before bedtime
- Experts say to not eat meals about 3 hours before bedtime to prevent nightly spikes in blood sugar and drinking fluids right before bed can lead to a midnight trip to the bathroom. Drinking water in the morning, however, has its own health benefits.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Your body is not a clock, but it does respond well to routine and predictability, especially regarding sleep. A consistent sleep schedule trains the body to release melatonin at the same time each night and eases the ability to fall and remain asleep.
How home care can help
Elder care focuses on the unique needs of each individual client and can be greatly beneficial to maintaining healthy sleep. These are just a few of the many ways in-home care can help.
- Live-in care or overnight shifts include a caregiver being present and observant of a seniors’ condition and ability to sleep throughout the night.
- Caregivers help keep track of time and can ensure seniors go to bed on a consistent schedule each night.
- Caregivers can assist with meal planning to align meals well with sleep schedules.
- Medication management and reminders help older adults get their medication at the prescribed intervals, so as to not conflict with sleep schedules.
- Personal care includes comfort and safety, and a caregiver can ensure the temperature of the room or comfort of the sleeping space is adequate for a good night’s rest.