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Treating Insomnia In The Elderly

Treating Insomnia in the Elderly

Poor sleep quality is one of the most common problems that seniors face on a daily basis. Often, this is caused by chronic pains or frequent trips to the bathroom that force the older adult to wake up several times in the night. However, there are many factors that may contribute to insomnia in the elderly. Read this article to learn more about sleep problems that come with old age.


How Many Hours of Sleep do Seniors Need?

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, those aged 65 years and older should aim to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Many seniors, however, don’t get enough; about 1 in every 4 Canadian seniors report sleeping less than this each night.

It’s important to remember that everyone is different, though, and some elderly people may need more or fewer hours of sleep than others.


Signs of Elderly Insomnia

There are some red flags you may notice if your senior loved one isn’t getting the sleep they need. Some of these warning signs include:

  • Complaining about feeling tired during the day;
  • Impaired memory;
  • Having difficulty focusing;
  • Being irritable;
  • Taking naps during the day;
  • Having difficulty staying awake during the day;
  • Relying on pills in order to fall asleep at night.

If you or a caregiver notice these types of behaviors, sleep quality is likely to be an issue, and should be properly addressed.


What Causes Insomnia in the Elderly?

As we age, more and more health problems can cause us to miss out on sleep. For seniors, one of the most common reasons for sleeplessness is being forced to get up and leave the bed to use the restroom. Getting up several times in the night prevents the body from completing a full sleep cycle and entering deep (REM) sleep. This is known as nocturia. While there are many reasons a person might develop nocturia, it’s most frequent in older adults, who tend to develop bladder issues over time. Limiting the intake of fluids in the hour leading up to bedtime may help.

Another problem that may cause difficulty sleeping is arthritis. This disease affects about a fifth of all Canadian seniors, and can lead to your elderly loved one waking up several times per night due to pain or discomfort. There are many natural remedies to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, which may help with sleeping. However, be aware that certain steroidal medications may actually worsen insomnia in seniors.

If dementia is a factor, Sundown Syndrome may be at fault. This phenomenon causes those with Alzheimer’s to become confused and agitated toward the end of the day. When sundowning is an issue, it’s recommending to have a family member or professional caregiver present at all times of the night to supervise the affected senior.

Stress and depression can also cause restless nights. These problems are most common in elderly parents who live alone, and don’t have caregivers or family members to offer company.

How Do You Treat Insomnia in the Elderly?

Elderly persons who deal with sleep issues on a regular basis likely suffer from insomnia. Here are some tips for improving sleep quality for seniors:

  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption a few hours before bed;
  • Reduce all liquid consumption before bed (to reduce trips to the bathroom);
  • Establish a regular time to go to sleep and wake up;
  • Restrict naps in the daytime, limiting them to 30 minutes or less;
  • Check all medications being taken for potential sleep-related side effects, and discuss alternatives with your doctor or pharmacist for drugs that may be interfering with sleep;
  • Make the bedroom as dark as possible at night, limiting all light including small sources such as digital alarm clocks. Consider installing black-out curtains;
  • Reduce pain and discomfort before bed with light stretching or over-the-counter painkillers;
  • Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature;
  • If falling asleep is difficult, natural medications like melatonin tablets can be used a half hour before bed;
  • Block out snoring – living with a spouse who snores can cause a senior to miss out on sleep. Try earplugs or a white noise machine to drown out the sound. Alternatively, snoring can be prevented through use of a mouth guard. In more serious cases, snoring can actually be a cause of sleep apnea, so if an elderly loved one snores loud enough to wake themselves up in the middle of the night, a doctor should be consulted.


There are many other ways to ensure a good night’s rest. On top of the above mentioned tips, try developing bedtime habits, such as taking a soothing bath, playing calm music, and so on. Caregivers can set up regular nighttime rituals to help your elderly loved one relax before bedtime.

If you or a senior family member is suffering from sleep problems or insomnia, consider hiring a professional caregiver. Complete Care Coordination can help; we have qualified, experience caregivers who can provide physical care and home care assistance. Contact us today for a free consultation with a nurse.

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