Many aging adults have trouble sleeping as they grow older. The Sleep Foundation reported that, “According to NSF’s 2003 Sleep in America poll, 44% of older persons experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week or more.” For some with dementia or Alzheimer’s, however, sleep problems can reach a whole other level. Whether your aging loved one has been diagnosed with cognitive decline, or they are simply having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, here are a few tips that will be helpful.
1. No napping. Well, at least very limited napping. An obvious side effect of a poor night’s sleep would be extra grogginess during the day, but taking naps that are too long or too near bedtime can make the situation worse, causing a cyclical affect of sleeping too much in the daytime. If you are the primary caregiver, keep an eye on the clock when the adult falls asleep during the day, and some doctor’s recommend no longer than 30 minutes. Another point to note is to make sure the nap occurs closer to lunch rather than dinner time.
2. Be active. During the day, try to make sure the aging adult takes a walk, waters the garden, or some other activity they enjoy. Sitting in front of the TV all day does nothing to help sleep problems and actually encourages napping. Make sure the brain is stimulated as well. Puzzles, online games, board or card games, and reading all help keep the mind engaged and active. Engage one another in conversation and make social calls to friends and family. One warning is to make sure that exercise doesn’t occur after 7 or 8 at night, as this can hinder falling asleep.
3. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Depending on the habits of the aging adult, this can be either really easy or very difficult. People are creatures of habit, and to change a habit that one enjoys can be especially challenging. If coffee is a must, encourage that it only be consumed in the morning before lunch time. Try to encourage that alcohol and tobacco be cut out completely, as one is a stimulant and the other a depressant, and both are connected to sleep problems. If smoking is something they just won’t let go of, try to gently remind them of the benefits of quitting, set up a support system around them, and research medical methods that have been proven to help, such as nicotine replacements or certain medications. It’s much harder to try and stop using alcohol or tobacco on your own, so make sure to be supportive on the whole journey.
4. Establish a routine. Everyone loves to know what’s going to happen next, right? Our physical bodies are not so different from our mental capacities in that way. Waking and going to sleep around the same time every day helps our bodies find their rhythm. Establishing a bedtime routine so that our minds know what is coming next (sleep) is also very helpful. Perhaps after dinner is cleaned up, a few games of cards are played, followed by a shower, some reading, and then it’s off to bed. Alon Avidan, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center said this about poor nighttime routines, “The guidelines for good sleep hygiene should really be emphasized because this is exactly what we tell people who come to the sleep clinic,” Avidan says. “If patients would follow some of these guidelines we could eliminate half of the visits to the clinic. Some of them have very bad sleep habits.” Making sure to stay away from the things that cause poor sleep is half the battle.
There are several other healthy sleep practices to try, but go ahead and start on these few. If you aren’t seeing results, contact your doctor and discuss what else might be recommended for your situation. Happy sleeping!