It is one of the most frustrating ways to end a day – lying awake while the rest of the household sleeps blissfully. No matter what you do you can’t get comfortable, so you toss and turn for hours before finally drifting off just before dawn. Or maybe you fall asleep just fine, only to awaken two hours later unable to fall back asleep. The next day you feel groggy, irritable, and unable to concentrate. And the next night the scenario repeats itself, leaving you even more fatigued. For seniors suffering from insomnia, this, and not the recommended 7-9 hours of nightly sleep, is the reality. Seniors with insomnia who face lack of sleep can worsen symptoms of depression, affect memory, and make daily life a chore. Even worse, insufficient sleep can cause fatigue-related driving accidents or falls.
In many cases, insomnia is actually a symptom of something else going on. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, and snoring are just a few of the underlying conditions that can cause restless nights. Or the cause might be stress or depression related to a major life event, such as the loss of a spouse or a recent retirement. Insomnia may also be caused or exacerbated by medication or chronic pain. So how can your loved one get the best night’s sleep possible?
What to do to get More Sleep
#1 Seniors with Insomnia: Talk to his or her doctor first.
First check any and all medications to see if sleeplessness is listed as a side effect. Bring up any concerns with your loved one’s doctor. Even if no medications list sleep trouble as a possible side effect, check with the doctor anyway, as the specific combination of medications your loved one takes may be the culprit. The doctor can also help rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing the insomnia.
#2 Seniors with Insomnia: Avoid or limit stimulants.
If Dad must have coffee, encourage him to finish it well before lunchtime, and then abstain from all caffeine for the rest of the day. Watch out for hidden caffeine in sodas, ice teas, and chocolate. It may take a few days for the body to clear residual caffeine out, so don’t give up if this doesn’t work right away.
#3 Seniors with Insomnia: Don’t rely on alcohol.
A nightcap may help with drifting off, but even small amounts of alcohol can cause restless sleep. It’s best to avoid it altogether when dealing with insomnia.
#4 Seniors with Insomnia: Get moderate exercise.
Morning exercise seems to work best; avoid heavy exercise in the late afternoon and evening. If a senior has mobility issues, a physical therapist can create a modified exercise routine to help them be as active as possible.
#5 Seniors with Insomnia: Have a routine.
Encourage seniors to do the same things in the same order each night. Any relaxing sequence of events can help condition the body and mind for sleep. Watching a favorite television program, having a warm glass of milk, eating a light snack, taking a bath, reading in bed, or doing some gentle stretches are good options. It is best to avoid anything too stimulating, such as using the computer or talking on the phone. Seniors should ideally head to bed as soon as they feel tired and get up at the same time each day, regardless of how last night went. In time, their body should feel tired at the desired bedtime.
#6 Seniors with Insomnia: Set up a quiet environment.
Keep the lights low and make sure the bed is as comfortable as possible – sometimes sleep problems are due to something as simple as an aging mattress or pillow. Set necessary items, such as water, tissues, and eyeglasses within easy reach. If outside noise is an issue, a white noise machine or fan can help. Check the temperature of the room too, crack a window for fresh air if needed.