Sleep disorders in the elderly
Sleep disorders in the elderly involve any disrupted sleep pattern. This can include problems falling or staying asleep, too much sleep, or abnormal behaviors with sleep.
Sleep problems are common in the elderly. In general, the amount of sleep needed stays constant throughout the adult years. Doctors recommend that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. In older adults, sleep is less deep and choppier than sleep in younger people.
A healthy 70-year-old may wake up several times during the night without it being due to disease.
Some causes or contributors to sleep disturbances in older adults include:
Symptoms that may occur:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will take a history and perform a physical exam to look for medical causes and determine which type of sleep disorder is causing the problem.
Relieving chronic pain and controlling medical conditions such as frequent urination may improve sleep in some people. Treating depression can also improve sleep.
Sleeping in a quiet room that is not too hot or too cold and having a relaxing bedtime routine may help improve symptoms. Other ways to promote sleep include the following healthy lifestyle tips:
If you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity such as reading or listening to music.
Avoid using sleeping pills to help you sleep, if possible. They can lead to dependence and can make sleep problems worse over time if you don't use them correctly. Your health care provider should assess your risks of daytime sleepiness, mental (cognitive) side effects, and falls before you begin taking sleep medications.
WARNING: The FDA has asked manufacturers of certain sleep medicines to put stronger warning labels on their products so that consumers are more aware of the potential risks. Possible risks while taking such medicines include severe allergic reactions and dangerous sleep-related behaviors, including sleep-driving. Ask your doctor about these risks.
For most people, sleep improves with treatment. However, others may continue to have sleep disruptions.
Possible complications are:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if a lack of sleep or too much sleep is interfering with daily living.
Getting regular exercise and avoiding as many causes of sleep disruption as possible and adequate exposure to natural light may help control sleep problems.
Ancoli-Israel S, Shochat T. Insomnia in older adults. In: Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 135.
Juergens TM, Barczi SR. Sleep. In: Duthie EH, Katz PR, Malone ML, eds. Practice of Geriatrics. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 22.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How Much Sleep is Enough? Available at: www.nhlbi.nih.gov. Updated February 22, 2012. Accessed October 22, 2014.
Review Date: 10/27/2014
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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