Sleeping problems in the elderly are more than likely to manifest in a particular pattern, depending on the person’s health and the prescription drugs they may be taking for their health problems. The quality of their sleep may change considerably, either because of fewer demands on their energy due to retirement or through illness.
Illness disrupts sleep patterns in the elderly and may result in increased awakenings due to physical discomfort. Urinary urgency, cramps, angina, chronic obstructive airway disease, and left ventricular failure maybe some of the many illnesses which cause sleep problems in the elderly.
An older adult may become very anxious about a change in their sleep pattern; however, it will be necessary to thoroughly investigate the problem to ascertain if this perceived sleeping problem causes dysfunction in their waking activities. If the older adult has a carer or lives with family, then the problem may be easier to assess, for what appears to be a problem may only be a regular change in sleep pattern for the age.
The most frequently occurring sleep problem in the elderly appears to be sleep latency. The person may spend some hours in bed before sleep occurs. The elderly person may perceive this as a problem, and sleeping pills may be sought. Sleep latency is more common in females, and this appears to apply in all age groups, not just to elderly persons; however, it does occur more often in elderly females.
Possibly reduced daytime activity, combined with daytime naps, may reduce the quality of sleep in the elderly. The pressure of a typical working day has been taken away, so the energy output is considerably less. While this may be offered as a possible reason for sleep latency, many other factors may be involved.
There may be much confusion about sleep latency. The difficulty may be exaggerated because the person who experiences it may be convinced that they will become ill unless they have 8 hours of quality sleep. Sometimes it is difficult to convince an elderly person that they no longer require 8 hours of unbroken sleep, but maybe better served by a shorter nighttime sleep supplemented with day time naps.
Re the old remedy of a glass of milk before bed:
According to Jean Carper, The Food Pharmacy, milk for insomniacs, never!
Milk, particularly low-fat dairy, wakes you up. ” Milk delivers tyrosine to the brain, which in turn triggers the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, stimulating you to think more quickly and accurately.”
So how can sleep problems in the elderly be resolved? Firstly, a warm, comfortable noise-free environment, regular exercise, a good diet, no heavy meals at night, no eating late at night, relaxation therapies, aromatherapy, herbs like valerian may be taken as a tea, provided that your doctor has been consulted. Homeopathy is the cheapest, the least invasive, the most gentle, with no side effects, and no interactions with any drugs you may be taking. No homeopathic remedies are recommended here, for it is crucial to consult a qualified homeopath to achieve the patient’s best outcome.
Sleep problems in the elderly should be thoroughly investigated before any medications are prescribed. Unfortunately, this is not always the procedure that is adopted, for often a script is written for what has been described as insomnia by the elderly person; however, such is mostly not the case, but instead, it’s a normal progression of a resetting of the circadian rhythms which requires education, not medication.
Provided that there is no evidence of the central nervous system’s disease, such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic brain damage, and chronic pain, then sleep problems in the elderly are far better managed conservatively.