Sleeplessness in Seniors

Combatting Sleeplessness in Seniors

Seniors experience insomnia at a much higher rate than their younger counterparts. Generally, it’s not falling asleep that is the problem, but rather staying asleep. Whether it’s to use the restroom or grab a glass of water, once awake, seniors have a hard time falling back asleep. We’ve long known lack of sleep is linked to mental and physical problems for all age groups, but a good night’s sleep is especially important for seniors. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that poor sleep was linked to a build up of beta-amyloid. Beta-amyloid is a toxic protein found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Not only has poor sleep been found to produce beta-amyloid, but also people whose brains have more beta-amyloid have a harder time sleeping. It’s a catch-22 of sorts. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley found that deep sleep is necessary to “clean” the brain of amyloid protein. So which comes first: poor sleep or increased beta amyloid? They aren’t sure, but getting a good night’s sleep can reduce existing levels of beta-amyloid and prevent more from forming. Even people currently suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s can benefit from deeper sleep. Keep reading for a few tips on how the senior in your life can get the best sleep possible.

Create an Exercise Routine:

For people dealing with Alzheimer’s, exercise is beneficial because it can help combat depression, sleeplessness, and it stimulates neuromuscular movement. People with Alzheimer’s need both mental and physical exercise, but experts advise scheduling these activities towards the beginning of the day. As the clock moves closer to bedtime, people should reduce their level of activity so they can begin winding down. Exercising too close to bedtime not only leaves a senior energized, but their increased body temperature makes it harder to fall asleep.

Plan More Activities During the Day:

Along with daily exercise, more activities during the day can also help someone sleep at night. If a senior is used to lounging around the house, watching TV, or taking afternoon naps, then its no wonder they’re having trouble falling asleep at the appropriate time. Activities can be as simple as getting out and going to the grocery store. Or, if the person is healthy enough, yard work and daily chores can create a good routine.

Ensure a Relaxing Sleep Environment:

To help a senior remain asleep, there cannot be interruptions. This means that the temperature, noise level, and light level must remain constant. For example, is the senior’s room close to an area that has activities during the night? Or is their window near a bright streetlight? Maybe it’s time to install some blinds. Also, in regards to temperature, the cooler the body temperature the better. If the senior needs to use blankets that’s fine.

Manage Nighttime Brain Stimulation:

As mentioned above, reducing light in a senior’s room during the night is crucial. Some memory care facilities go as far as to adjust the color of a patient’s room to reduce stimulation before bed. If a nightlight is needed, only use a dim red light, as it is the least stimulating and disruptive color. Visual stimulation also comes from places beyond adjusting the lights. Make sure there is no cell phone, computer, or television use in the hours directly leading to bed. Removing the television from the bedroom can be extremely beneficial.

Through the combined energy of family members, caregivers, and healthcare providers, it is possible to improve a senior’s sleep schedule and possibly prevent complications in the future. Although Alzheimer’s has no cure, minimizing the risks leading to the disease is a step in the right direction. Even for someone already diagnosed with some type of dementia, improving their sleep will greatly improve their quality of life.

Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning provides free assistance to seniors or the disabled, specializing in long-term care.