Everyone experiences times in their lives when they have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. While most of the time the inability to obtain sufficient sleep is temporary, some people experience long stretches of sleeplessness which can affect every aspect of daily life. Insomnia can be caused by medical or psychiatric conditions, certain substances, unhealthy sleep habits, or certain biological factors, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It is a prevalent problem among the elderly due to changes in sleep patterns that occur as we age. If you have a loved one suffering from insomnia, learn how you can ease their pain and stress and encourage healthier sleep habits.
1. Recognize the Signs of Insomnia
It is not always easy to recognize the signs of insomnia in the elderly right away. Before getting a diagnosis of insomnia, a doctor will look at a person’s medical history and sleep history, and may even perform a physical exam. If an underlying sleep disorder is believed to be causing the problem, a sleep study known as a polysomnogram may be warranted. Insomnia may be diagnosed if your loved one has trouble falling asleep, wakes several times during the night, is sleep deprived due to less time being spent in a deep sleep, or experiences confusion between day and night.
2. Identify Underlying Problems of Insomnia
By determining what is causing your loved one’s insomnia, you can tailor a custom treatment that works to reduce symptoms. Talk to your loved one about their state of mind. It may help to ask direct questions, such as: Are you under a lot of stress? Do you struggle with anxiety? Are you depressed? Are you taking any medications that could be affecting your sleep? If your loved one has been diagnosed with insomnia his or her doctor should also take the necessary steps to pinpoint an underlying cause.
3. Encourage Better Sleep at Night
While you cannot control your loved one, you can encourage them to make better choices when it comes to their health. Even small changes such as turning off the television and computer one hour prior to sleep can retrain the brain to fall asleep at a normal time. It is also important to create a comfortable, cool, and dark bedroom environment that encourages restful sleep. A sleep mask and earplugs may help.
4. Reevaluate Diet and Exercise
As we age, it is common to slack on proper nutrition and exercise. However, a sleep-friendly diet and daily activity can help promote a more restful sleep and fewer waking periods during the night. To improve sleep, encourage your loved one to limit caffeine such as tea, soda, coffee, and chocolate. A light snack, such as yogurt or low-sugar cereal, can be eaten before bed to satisfy hunger. Minimizing liquid intake before bed is also a good idea to avoid having to use the bathroom at night. Insomnia in the elderly can also be lessened by regular exercise. Ask your loved one to join you in a swimming class, dancing, golfing, bowling, or even an aerobics class at a local community center.
5. Reduce Mental Stress and Anxiety
While insomnia in the elderly is known to generate stress and anxiety, it can also be a contributing factor. Talk to your loved one about ways to reduce their mental stress and let go of anxiety in a healthy way. Some seniors may choose to partake in a fun hobby, club, or other relaxing activity to create feelings of positivity. Others may find solace in listening to calming music, reading a book, getting a message, or writing in a journal.
6. Discourage Excessive Daytime Napping
Napping too frequently during the day can cause sleep problems at night. Discourage your loved one from napping for extended periods of time during the day. If he or she needs more sleep, going to bed earlier in the evening may be the better option. Stress, depression, and anxiety can all contribute to daytime napping in some seniors. If possible, have your loved one join you for fun activities several days a week to try and break their daytime napping habit.
7. Hire an In-Home Care Provider
You cannot always be there to make sure that your loved one is leading a healthy lifestyle. Hiring an in-home care provider can take the burden off of you while ensuring that your loved one receives the care he or she needs to thrive. An in-home care provider can provide assistance with all aspects of daily life, from helping with meals and mobility to running errands and providing personal care. These providers can also help your loved regain healthy sleeping habits by encouraging good nutrition, exercise, and overall healthy habits while you are away.
When you choose home care services for your loved one, you will have the opportunity to discuss your concerns via a caregiver meeting. Together, you can create a personalized schedule, care plan, and routines that will help your loved one manage or recover from their insomnia and live a healthier and more restful life. The biggest benefit of in-home care services is that the care is ongoing, consistent, and is open to communication when problems arise. Unlike a nursing home or assisted living facility, your loved one can also remain in the comfort of their own home if they choose.
Helping Seniors with Sleep Problems Such as Insomnia
Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint reported by the elderly. Sleep disorders have also been associated with increased mortality, cognitive impairment, and dementia. While it is not always possible to prevent insomnia in the elderly, you can help your loved one better manage their condition. A combination of proper diet, exercise, and help from an in-home care provider can do wonders for your loved one’s general health and state-of-mind. With the right help, your loved one may have the power to overcome their insomnia and sleep well at night. In some cases, medications prescribed by a physician may be needed to treat insomnia if other solutions are not successful.