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  • Kelli Edwards

Treating Insomnia in Elderly People


As people age, they start to have more difficulty in getting a good nights sleep. They either have trouble falling asleep or maybe they wake up and can't go back to sleep. 

Some elderly people just believe it is a part of the aging process and nothing to worry about. They start to feel tired earlier and move up their bedtime, or doze off during the day for a little nap. 


Almost 50% of all older adults report some symptoms of insomnia. 

There are several causes for insomnia in elderly people, and while most of them are not dangerous, not getting enough sleep is cause for concern both for the body and the mind. 


Let's explore the reasons behind insomnia in older adults and what can be done to help. 


What Is Insomnia?

It is recommended that older adults get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night.


Having a few restless nights or waking up after a stressful dream or too much pizza is not really considered insomnia. 


In fact, insomnia is classified as not being able to fall or stay asleep with decreased function during the day. A true diagnosis is made when this happens three times a week for a period of three months or longer.  


The problem with insomnia is the long-term effects.


Not getting adequate sleep can lead to depression, confusion, fatigue, loss of motivation, a decline in cognitive skills, poor concentration, and just an overall hard time getting through the day. 


What Causes Insomnia in Elderly People?

There are many reasons why an aging individual might find it increasingly more difficult to fall, or stay, asleep. Physical changes in the body, as well as lifestyle choices, all affect the quality and length of a good night's rest.


Medical Issues

Some sleep problems are caused by underlying medical problems. The primary health condition keeps the person from being able to rest properly. 


Heart problems, and even some lung conditions, that affect breathing can make it hard to sleep at night. 


Chronic pain can also make it difficult to go to sleep and often the pain will wake someone up. Until the pain subsides, they will just lay awake unable to rest. 

Recurring heartburn is another reason people experience insomnia.


As they age, some individuals often cannot make it through the night without having to go to the bathroom. An overactive bladder or even enlarged prostate increases the urge to urinate and will wake them up. 


Anxiety keeps a lot of older people up at night. They worry about their health, having to leave their home, what the future might hold. All these thoughts keep running around in their heads, and they are unable to relax and go to sleep. 


Older adults also take a variety of medication. It is possible that the side effects of the medicines or the interaction between them are causing them to experience insomnia. 

If a medical condition is the source of insomnia, treating that will increase the chances of them sleeping through the night and waking up refreshed and feeling good. 


Sleep disorders are also an early sign of dementia. Here are some early warning signs to see if someone you know may be headed that way. 


Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders

There are a few conditions grouped together known as SRBD. This is also known as sleep-disordered breathing. It is where someone's sleep is affected by how they breathe. 


Snoring falls into this category.