National Care Planning Council
National Care Planning Council

Senior Services
from our Members

Books for Care Planning

    Long Term Care BooksFind books provided by the National Care Planning Council written to help the public plan for Long Term Care. Learn More...

Eldercare Articles

    Eldercare ArticlesThe NCPC publishes periodic articles under the title "Planning for Eldercare". Each article is written to help families recognize the need for long term care planning and to help implement that planning. All elderly people, regardless of current health, should have a long term care plan. Learn More...

Join the NCPC

Guide to LTC Planning

    Guide to Long Term Care PlanningFrom its inception, the goal of the National Care Planning Council has been to educate the public on the importance of planning for long term care. With that goal in mind, we have created the largest and most comprehensive source of long term care planning material available anywhere. This material -- "Guide to Long Term Care Planning" -- is free to the public for downloading and printing on all of our web sites. Learn More...

Getting Adequate Sleep

Getting Adequate Sleep

Relationship of Sleep to Aging

Estimates are that aging seniors should get from 7 to 9 hours of good sleep per night. For many elders this is not happening. A study of adults over 65 found that 13% of men and 36% of women take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep. Older people often do not get good sleep as it is often disturbed with trips to the bathroom, aches and pains, difficulty breathing and so forth. Medications in particular can also significantly alter sleep patterns. Emotional problems or stress also have a profound effect on sleep.

Poor sleep is associated with a poor quality of life. Older adults with poor sleep are more likely to be depressed, have memory problems, have difficulty concentrating, become drowsy during the day, be at risk for nighttime falls and use more over-the-counter or prescription medicines to counteract the problems of sleep. Sometimes these drugs might have an opposite effect and produce more sleep disorder.

Aging does not have to result in poor sleep. Many aging seniors report normal sleep patterns. However, the presence of insomnia is higher among older adults. According to a sleep study in 2003, 44% of older persons experience one or more of the nighttime systems of insomnia at least a few nights per week. In some elders, insomnia can be chronic lasting over weeks or months, and this may be due to underlying medical or mental issues.

Poor sleep can also affect physical health. We have mentioned in other articles on this website that studies show lack of sleep can lead to an increased risk of dementia or Alzheimer's. Snoring is not only a consequence of sleep disruption affecting approximately 90 million Americans, but it can also lead to physical problems. Snoring accompanied by apnea - a stoppage in breathing - not only interrupts sleep constantly throughout the night but can also result in cardiovascular disease, headaches, memory loss and depression.

Some physical conditions intensify during sleep. Restlessly leg syndrome is a particularly aggravating condition that increases during sleep. This not only interferes with sleep patterns but might even worsen the symptoms of RSL itself. Approximately 45% of all older persons have at least a mild form of RSL called limb movement disorder. Gastric reflux worsens at night. This is primarily due to the esophagus being on the same level as the stomach, which allows acid to more readily move back up the esophagus to the mouth. Severe reflux can be life-threatening if stomach fluids are inhaled into lungs resulting in acute respiratory conditions or pneumonia. Prolonged reflux can lead to Barrett's disease which is a precursor to esophagus cancer.

Dealing with Sleep Deficiency

The catch-22 with sleep is that if you are over-stressed, you are likely to experience a disturbed sleeping pattern, and if you are experiencing a disturbed sleeping pattern, you are likely to become over-stressed!

Sleep isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. Sleep restores the body and mind and helps us maintain our mental and physical health. Studies have shown that people who get seven to eight hours of sleep each night enjoy better health and live longer than people who get less sleep. According to the National Institutes of Health, each year approximately 60 million Americans experience frequent insomnia, the inability to get adequate sleep.

To ensure that you get enough sleep, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Develop a sleep schedule and stick to it.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Wake up at the same time, too.
  • Avoid sleeping in on weekends; sleeping in will reset your body clock, making it harder to wake up on time on Monday.
  • Get 30 or more minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Avoid working out during the three hours before bedtime. Working out close to bedtime will energize you and may interfere with your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. These substances rob you of quality sleep. Switch to decaf or herbal tea.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Don't use alcohol to induce sleep. An alcoholic beverage (a "night cap") before bed may make you drowsy but it deprives you of deep, restorative sleep.
  • Engage in relaxing activities before bed. Think of it as "wind down" time. Read a book.
  • Soak in a hot tub. Avoid doing physically or mentally stimulating activities such as vigorous housecleaning or intense office work close to bedtime.
  • Leave your troubles outside the bedroom door. Make your bedroom a worry-free zone. If you start to ruminate about problems when you are in bed, try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualization (visualize that you are in a warm, breezy, tropical place, with the sun streaming down on you, nothing but sand, surf, and coconut trees for miles...).
  • Change your attitude. Instead of dreading going to bed in dealing with insomnia, try changing your thinking that when you are in bed, you are in a relaxed environment and that you are comfortable. If you force yourself to adopt this attitude night after night, eventually it will become a comfortable habit - one you won't have to work so hard to maintain.
  • Create a cozy sleep environment: wear comfortable pajamas, make the temperature of the room comfortable for you, darken the room, use soft, comfortable bedding that enhances your sleep experience. If your bed is too hard or lumpy or soft, invest in a new one. If noise is an issue, try to get at the root of the problem: ask your snoring partner to seek evaluation and treatment, ask your neighbors to be quieter, etc.

Hopefully some of the suggestions in this article will benefit aging seniors and their loved ones who often care for them.