What should you do if an elderly person says they have trouble sleeping?
The “normal aging” process, according to experts, does cause some sleep changes. Adults over the age of 65 report feeling sleepy earlier in the evening and sleeping less deeply than their younger counterparts.
However, although aging does alter sleep, many older adults also experience health problems that can disrupt their sleep. You should check for these if your elderly relatives complain of sleeplessness. The first step towards fixing a problem is always identifying it.
Keep in mind that adequate, high-quality sleep is essential for the maintenance of a healthy brain, body, and disposition.
The Top 5 Reasons Older People Can’t Sleep
Medical conditions that cause difficulty falling asleep.
Despite the prevalence of “primary” sleep disorders in the elderly population, many of the sleep issues experienced by this demographic are actually “secondary” sleep problems, meaning they are secondary to an underlying medical condition whose main symptoms are unrelated to sleep.
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Sleep disturbances in the elderly are often caused by health problems like:
- Conditions of the heart and lungs that impede airflow include heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Large meals eaten late at night have been linked to gastroesophageal reflux disease, the cause of heartburn.
- Conditions that cause pain, such as osteoarthritis
- Nighttime urination is a symptom of urinary tract issues, such as an enlarged prostate or an overactive bladder.
Sleep-related breathing disorders like snoring and sleep apnea.
Problems with breathing while sleeping fall under the umbrella term of sleep-related breathing disorders (also known as “SRBD” or “sleep-disordered breathing”).
Because of its prevalence and the many health issues it has been linked to (especially in middle-aged adults), diagnosing sleep apnea is crucial. A person with sleep apnea stops breathing repeatedly while sleeping. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which breathing stops repeatedly throughout the night because of an obstruction in the airway. Snoring is a common symptom of OSA. Central sleep apnea is a less common type in which breathing interruptions are caused by neurological disorders.
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Restless leg syndrome
As a result of this disorder, falling asleep is accompanied by feelings of itchiness, crawling, or restlessness. The discomfort isn’t usually painful, and it goes away when you start moving around. The exact biological roots of this issue are unclear, but it appears to be connected to dopamine and iron levels in the brain. Neurodegeneration is not thought to be involved in the vast majority of cases.
PLMS, or periodic limb movements in sleep.
Sleep-related leg movements are common in people with PLMS. It has the potential to manifest in the hips, knees, or toes. These shifts in position can be annoying to a sleeping partner and may even wake the person up.
The inability to fall asleep or stay asleep despite usual sleep-inducing circumstances (like being in bed) and the resulting impairment in daytime functioning characterizes insomnia. Because it affects so many people in their middle and later years, I consider it the ancestor of all sleep disorders.
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