Caregivers: Why Seniors Sometimes Sleep Less than the Rest of Us

Those of us who provide caregiving to seniors may be distressed to find that our senior seems to sleep less than the rest of us do or less and less as time goes on. However, there is an important difference between normal age-related changes and those caused by illness or other problems.

Normal Patterns

According to the National Institute of Health,  the average healthy adult requires between 7 ½ and 9 hours of rest a night. However, the NIH also found that those of advanced age may fall on the low end of that spectrum and only need about 7 ½ hours of rest per night on average. This is due to normal age-related changes in the body including changes in melatonin and other related hormones.

In addition, research has shown that older adults tend to go to bed earlier and wake earlier than others, called advanced phase syndrome. This is a normal age-related pattern.

Every individual is different in terms of rest needs, so caregivers should watch to make sure that the individual wakes up rested and maintains normal energy levels throughout the day. If so, the senior is likely getting the rest that they need, even if the actual amount of rest is less than expected.

Identifying Problems

The most important factor of rest for anyone, including seniors, is the quality. If someone has difficulty relaxing, wakes often, feels tired in the morning and is tired throughout the day, there is likely an underlying medical issue.

If the senior snores loudly, this may indicate that the individual has obstructive apnea, often caused by obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or other issues and a health care professional should evaluate this.

Other potential health care problems may include restless leg syndrome (RLS), gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, all of which might cause rest issues. If you are concerned about the quality of rest the senior is experiencing or any other symptoms or issues, schedule a physical exam by a health care professional.

Some simple changes are often enough to improve the quality of nightly rest:

  • Reduce caffeine intake
  • Shorten daily naps
  • Exercise daily
  • Stop liquid intake after dinner to help prevent the need to urinate during the night
  • Turn off the television before bed
  • Set a regular schedule

Proper senior caregiving includes helping the senior establish healthy sleeping patterns to aid them in feeling as rested and energetic during the day as possible, which in turn leads to an increased feeling of overall well-being.

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