Does Your Loved One Have a Sleep Disorder?

Providing care to someone who has difficulty sleeping through the night means that you have difficulty with sleep too. Changes in sleep patterns may be a part of normal aging but when sleep changes effects normal daily routines it may be a results of a chronic condition.

Contributors to Sleep Disturbances in the Elderly:

Alzheimer’s Disease
Congestive Heart Failure
Neurological Conditions
Pain caused by diseases such as arthritis
Prescription drugs
Sedentary lifestyle
Stimulants such as caffeine
Urination at night

Common Sleep Disorders:
Insomnia—a hard time falling or staying asleep
Sleep Apnea—breathing interruptions during sleep
Restless legs syndrome—a tingling or prickly sensation in the legs
Narcolepsy—daytime sleep attacks
Parasomnias—Nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking, head banging, wetting the bed, and grinding your teeth.

While many seniors complain of poor sleep, relatively few have true sleep disorders and even smaller numbers need commonly prescribed sleep medicationsSleep disorders in the elderly include apnea (a temporary cessation of breathing which can also affect younger people) and periodic limb movement, which can take the form of periodic leg movements during sleep (PLMS) or restless leg syndrome. In this syndrome, the person is gripped by strong urges to move his or her legs repeatedly before sleep, which prevent him or her from falling asleep.

Before a physician can diagnose a sleep disorder, he or she should perform a thorough medical examination, review medications the person is taking, and speak to the person’s spouse or bed partner about their sleeping habits.

Often the most effective approach to improving slumber is to ensure proper sleep “hygiene,” which refers to “all the daily practices or routines that can either promote or impede nighttime rest.” Some activities that help induce sleep are sticking to a regular bedtime, establishing pre-sleep rituals such as bathing, a light snack, or reading, exercising regularly but not within four hours of bedtime, refraining from caffeine within six hours of bedtime, avoiding smoking close to bedtime, taking a midafternoon nap, and avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills.

Vital Information:

  • As people age, their sleep patterns naturally change, which can lead to complaints of light sleep, frequent awakenings, and daytime fatigue.
  • These changes are considered normal, and in most cases medications are inappropriate because they are habit-forming and can have serious side effects.
  • To alleviate sleep problems, people can make behavior modifications including having a regular bedtime, establishing pre-sleep rituals, exercising regularly, and avoiding caffeinesmoking, and alcohol before bedtime.


Jennifer Benjamin
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