July 3, 2019

Have you noticed your senior loved one sitting up in the middle of the night? Do they seem sluggish or lethargic during the day? Is the older adult in your life always complaining that they’re tired, and not getting enough sleep? 

If the senior loved one in your life is experiencing trouble sleeping, they’re certainly not alone. According to one significant study, about 23-24% of older adults report having one or more symptoms of insomnia, including difficulty falling asleep, trouble waking up, waking too early, needing to nap, and not feeling rested throughout the day. Another report, cited by the National Sleep Foundation, found that number to be even higher, with 44% of older people saying that they experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia “at least a few nights per week or more.” 

As the National Sleep Foundation explains, it’s a common misconception that older adults need less sleep. For optimum health and well-being, seniors still need the same seven to nine hours of satisfying sleep per night that younger adults do. On the other hand, it is natural for seniors to naturally experience earlier sleep/wake cycles as they get older. There are a variety of physical and mental changes that make it more difficult for older adults to get that nourishing, rejuvenating shuteye each night. 

Why Do Seniors Often Have More Trouble Sleeping?

Many older adults find it more difficult to get restful sleep each night due to a number of different factors. 

For one thing, a fair number of elderly adults cope with sleep disorders, which can make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a full night’s sleep without assistance. Some common sleep disorders among older adults include sleep-related breathing disorders (such as sleep apnea), and physical conditions such as restless leg syndrome, or a condition known as periodic leg movements during sleep (PLMS), which can all make it more difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep. 

Even more commonly, many older adults face “secondary” sleep problems; these are physical conditions or experiences that can make it much harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, including: 

  • Lung conditions that cause difficulty breathing 
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Physical sources of aches and pains, such as arthritis 
  • Needing to frequently use the restroom overnight 
  • Depression, stress, anxiety, and other mood problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems 
  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia 
  • Medication side effects

What Can Family Caregivers Do to Help?

As a loving and supportive family caregiver, it can be difficult to watch as the senior in your life struggles with sleep. It’s easy to feel helpless, particularly if you’re beginning to notice that a lack of sleep is impacting your senior loved one’s health and well-being in other ways. Suffering from a chronic lack of sleep can impact your senior loved one’s energy levels, affect their ability to focus and communicate, and exacerbate a wide variety of chronic health conditions. 

What can you do to help? Here are three steps to take if you notice that your senior loved one is having significant trouble sleeping: 

Consult with a Healthcare Professional

One of the first and most important steps you can take as a family caregiver is to help your senior loved one visit a medical professional. You may want to confer with a sleep specialist, or talk to your older loved one’s primary care physician, who may be able to examine your senior loved one and make referrals to other specialists, as needed. 

Working with an experienced medical team can help your senior loved one go through testing, to see if they are dealing with a sleep disorder that can be diagnosed and treated. In other cases, a healthcare professional can help figure out and address other underlying root causes that could be impacting your loved one’s ability to sleep, ranging from physical pain, to anxiety, to medication side effects. A medical professional can help you and your loved one create a course of action, which could include using sleep aids, starting with cognitive or physical therapy, or finding another solution that can help make sleep more attainable for your senior family. 

Help Your Senior Loved One Improve Their Meditation and Exercise Routines

For adults, making some minor lifestyle changes can help make it easier to get a restful and fulfilling night’s sleep. 

For instance, numerous studies have shown that engaging in more physical exercise can help people fall asleep more easily, and stay asleep for longer. You may want to consider helping your senior find the fun, engaging exercise regimen that will help them get moving, and fall asleep more easily at night. 

Meanwhile, studies have also demonstrated the remarkable power of mindfulness meditation for older adults with sleep concerns. One clinical study from 2015 found that meditation can contribute to a significant improvement in sleep quality and reduce daytime impairment among older adults. There are all sorts of ways to help the senior in your life begin experimenting with meditation, from joining a local class to using mindfulness apps and online resources. 

Help Your Senior Loved One Practice Better Sleep Hygiene

As a family caregiver, one of the most important and effective things you can do to help your loved one rest easier is to train them on proper “sleep hygiene.” You can think of practicing sleep hygiene as taking care to do certain things, and avoid others, before settling in for bed. It’s all about helping your senior loved one get their mind and body prepared for a good night’s sleep. 

For example, experts recommend that older adults try to keep a regular sleeping and waking schedule, complete with a routine bedtime. You can also help seniors ease into sleep by encouraging them to establish soothing pre-sleep rituals such as bathing, reading, or listening to calming music. At the same time, it can help to avoid certain activities that can impair sleep. For many older adults, this may mean avoiding exercising within four hours before bedtime, cutting out caffeine and alcohol later in the day, not eating a heavy meal shortly before bed, turning off the TV or computer well before going to bed, and skipping that mid-day nap, which can make it more difficult to sleep at night. 

Companions for Seniors is Here to Help Make Caregiving Easier

If you have a loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experts at Companions for Seniors.

We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs, and we’re here to answer any questions you may have about any aspect of caring for your aging loved one.

Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for the senior in your life. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for  family caregivers who might need some support.

We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients. Our caregivers can assist with activities of daily living, housekeeping, driving services, and more, all on a flexible schedule that works for you.

Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our contact form, available here.