As an adult, we need the same amount of sleep whether we are in our 20s or our 80s. You may, however, notice that residents’ sleep patterns differ from your own. They may rise very early in the morning, leading you to believe they need less sleep. In reality, they may be suffering from a sleep deficit or lack of sleep.

As we age, changes in our sleep patterns, or sleep architecture, often result in fewer hours of sleep. In a normal evening, we go through several stages that are repeated throughout the night:

  • NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement): dreamless periods of light and deep sleep which make up 75% of a night’s sleep
  • REM (Rapid Eye Movement): periods of active dreaming, which make up 25% of a night’s sleep

Sleep studies show that older individuals spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep. This is caused by taking more time to fall asleep, spending less time in REM sleep, and waking more often throughout the night.

In addition, seniors move into Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome. A change in their bodies’ circadian rhythms, which control the timing of their bodily functions, makes them feel sleepier earlier in the evening. The advanced sleep pattern results in seniors going to bed and rising at earlier times.

Sleep Disorders in Seniors

Beyond the natural changes occurring in their bodies, there may be other disorders or chronic illnesses causing a lack of sleep in seniors. These can include:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Frequent urination
  • Arthritis pain
  • Heart problems
  • Anxiety

Another common sleep disorder causing a lack of sleep among seniors is insomnia. Nearly 50% of adults 60 and older are affected by it, according to the National Institute of Health. Insomnia is a condition where the sufferer is unable to fall asleep, has trouble staying asleep, or has issues with waking early and not being able to fall back to sleep.

Chart of Nightime and Daytime Signs of Insomnia in Seniors

Look for these signs of insomnia in your residents:

At Night:

  • Taking more than 30-45 minutes to fall asleep
  • Having trouble staying asleep
  • Waking up early, unable to fall back asleep
  • Depression
  • Night falls

During the Day:

  • Feeling drowsy or tired
  • Complaining of being up all night
  • Depression
  • Accidents due to sleep deprivation
  • Irritability
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty concentrating

Promoting Healthy Sleeping Habits in Seniors

Here are some simple ways you can help to promote healthy sleeping habits in your residents (and that you can use yourself!) to help alleviate insomnia or other issues affecting sleep patterns.

  • Avoid caffeine close to bedtime
  • Avoid large meals near bedtime
  • Rise and go to bed at the same time every day
  • Exercise early in the day
  • Enjoy relaxing activities prior to bed, such as reading or listening to music

SeniorLivingU’s in-service program, Are You Getting Enough Sleep? will offer more insight for your staff to ensure that they are getting enough sleep and can help their residents get a restful night of sleep.