During the week of April 23 – 29, 2017, the National Sleep Foundation wants you to celebrate Sleep Awareness Week. A good night’s sleep is important to everyone, as the human body is built to use the sleeping hours as maintenance and repair time. Seniors need healthy, restful, rejuvenating sleep as much as anyone else, contrary to the myth that older people just naturally sleep less. Sadly, many factors contribute to our older loved ones getting less and lower quality sleep as they age, which negatively impacts their physical and mental health. Caregivers, home care aides and loved ones need to know the do’s and don’ts of good sleep hygiene for optimum health.
The Dalai Lama says that ‘Sleep is the best meditation,’ and both meditation and eight or more hours a night of sleep are considered healthy habits. Winston Churchill, Freud, Mozart and Tesla are just a few of the people whose personal myths include the fact that they slept a handful of hours a night. There’s no correlation between creative genius and scant sleep, and if you don’t believe me, this infographic shows it.
The myth that seniors simply don’t sleep as much as they used to, and that they really don’t need it, is both untrue and harmful. Sleep disorders are common in seniors, and the impact is even greater when you consider the diseases, conditions, and medications they contend with. The primary causes of poor sleep in seniors include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disruption, and REM cycle disruptions. But seniors commonly suffer from other primary conditions that affect sleep, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, heart, stomach, lung and neurological conditions, menopause, and even poor bladder control. Many of the medications for this array of conditions, and other common ailments, will disrupt sleep. In addition to those possible obstacles to a good night’s sleep, the aging body takes longer to fall asleep (latency), wakes up more often during the night (sleep fragmentation), gets less time in REM sleep, and sleeps more lightly than before. So while overall sleep time seems to remain the same, the quality of the sleep leaves seniors tired and less alert during the day. The cherry on the sundae is that fatigue and fuzziness can lead to falls and injury.
Happily, caregivers, home care aides and loved ones can make some practical changes to sleep habits – sleep hygiene – that can improve the quality of sleep and the energy, health and alertness experienced during the day. Here are six common-sense sleep habits to adopt for long-term impact:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even weekends
- Reserve the bed for sleep or intimacy, and avoid work on laptops, phones and tablets
- Engage in ‘analog’ activities like reading, puzzles, or knitting before bedtime
- Make your bedroom a soothing, comfortable, and dark refuge by sight, smell and sound
- Avoid naps, if you can. If you can’t, take a 20-minute power nap only
- Remove the TV from your room
Developing a smart and savvy routine around sleep will benefit loved ones of any age. However, caregivers and home care aides know that many of the health conditions that develop with age also create sleep problems. Sleep awareness and proper sleep hygiene can reduce the consequences that loved ones experience.