It’s common for seniors to experience sleep disturbances. The National Sleep Foundation says that 44 percent of older persons experience insomnia “at least a few nights per week or more”. The side effects of not sleeping well are more serious than just feeling tired. Studies have discovered that sleep disturbances may increase the risk of memory loss as well as mental and physical disorders. Improving sleep is essential to protecting brain function and physical health for seniors. If your loved one is complaining of regular sleep disturbances, here are the three best ways to address them to improve sleep.
Why sleep is important for the brain
Healthy sleep patterns help the brain to transfer memories and information from short term memory to long term memory. A good night’s sleep refreshes the brain and helps it to function better. However, if age and other factors interfere with sleep, then healthy brain waves are interrupted as well and may cause memory loss. According to the National Sleep Foundation, older people experience more sleep disturbances because they take longer to fall asleep, have fewer hours of deep, restful REM sleep and wake up more frequently during the night.
Three ways to improve sleep
Mental and physical discomfort, disease and illness, medications and even poor nutrition can interrupt sleep. When considering how to help your senior loved one sleep better, all of these issues should be taken into consideration.
1. Improve your loved one’s physical condition
Assess medication side effects: Talk to your loved one’s doctor about the medications he or she is taking. Ask if the side effects include sleep disturbances. If so, are there different medications that will not disturb sleep?
Improve nutrition: Hunger and thirst can wake an older person. Make sure your loved one eats well during the day with frequent, small meals that are digested easily. The last small meal should be eaten approximately three hours before bedtime to prevent indigestion or acid reflux. Help your loved one to remain well hydrated throughout the day, drinking lots of fluids until approximately four hours before bedtime.
Maintain regular routines: A study at the University of Haifa in Israel discovered that having a regular daily routine improved sleep quality for people between the ages of 58 and 89. The study was conducted in 2007 and 2008 with 96 participants who lived in two retirement communities. Researchers interviewed the participants about their daily activities over the course of the study. They found that the individuals who followed daily routines:
- Took less time to fall asleep
- Had higher sleep efficiency (the amount of time in bed that you are asleep)
- Had better sleep quality
Address and control pain: Pain from any source will interrupt sleep. It can prevent seniors from falling asleep, shorten the length of time they sleep and interrupt a positive sleep-wake cycle. Consider whether your loved one may be experiencing pain from any of the following conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Gastrointestinal disease or conditions
- Pulmonary disease or conditions
- Neurologic diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
2. Improve the sleep environment
The bedroom should be a calm, quiet environment that is conducive to sleeping. It should not be loud, filled with bright lights or noise. It should not be a place for watching TV or using the computer. Make sure the bedroom is:
- The right temperature, not too hot or too cold
- Shielded from lights
- Shielded from noises like barking dogs and ringing phones
- Free from LED lights and blue electronic screens
Encourage your loved one to get up out of bed if he or she cannot sleep. Restricting the amount of time that is spent in bed awake can actually lead to improved sleep. When an individual spends a lot of time in bed awake it can become a habit and create long term sleep disruptions. It is better to get up, leave the room and then return to try to sleep again, rather than remain in bed tossing and turning.
3. Learn better sleep habits
This may seem very simple, but poor sleep habits are one of the biggest causes of sleep disruptions. Any adult can benefit from better sleep habits. It is a matter of developing a routine that signals the body and brain that we are slowing down to sleep, much like we teach infants. You can help your loved one to learn better sleep habits by practicing the following steps:
- Restrict caffeine and alcohol intake in the hours before bed. Alcohol may create sleepiness initially but it actually prevents deeper sleep and can cause sleep disturbances
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine that is practiced every day
Helping senior loved ones to experience better sleep can improve their mental and physical health. It can help to eliminate depression and increase their ability to function well during the day. A well rested brain will serve your loved one better and help him or her to enjoy life and good health.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.