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Why Do Elderly People Sleep So Much: Uncovering the Science Behind It

Why Do Elderly People Sleep So Much: Uncovering the Science Behind It

If you have been noticing that your elderly relative is turning into a confirmed sleepy head the following article can help you understand why that is and why it is so important for your aging loved one to balance their need for sleep with more frequent napping. 
Why Do Elderly People Sleep So Much
Why Do Elderly People Sleep So Much
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As the elderly members in your family progress in age, you may notice that they tend to sleep more.

Many factors contribute to this increase in sleep, and understanding these reasons can help you provide better care and support for your loved ones.

By being aware of the following factors, you can take the necessary steps to address your loved one’s individual needs.

  • Aging can lead to changes in brain function, making it more difficult for older adults to fall into and remain in deep sleep.
  • Changes in an elderly person’s circadian rhythm can affect the quality and duration of their sleep.
  • Health conditions like depression and sleep disorders can cause sleep disturbances and excessive daytime sleepiness.

As a caregiver or family member, you play a crucial role in your elderly loved one’s well-being.

Staying informed about their sleeping patterns and addressing potential issues ensures they receive the care they need for restful sleep and overall health.

Illustrative Case Study: How Helen Reclaimed Restful Nights

Meet Helen, a vibrant 78-year-old widow who recently started spending more time in bed, often sleeping up to 14 hours a day.

This increased sleep has not only left her feeling groggy and disoriented but also impacted her social life and hobbies.

Helen’s children, who live nearby, noticed her decline in energy and engagement, growing increasingly concerned about her well-being and overall health.

Determined to find the root cause of Helen’s excessive sleep, her children and caregivers worked together with healthcare professionals to explore the multiple factors affecting elderly sleep.

They discovered that Helen’s circadian rhythms had shifted earlier, causing her to fall asleep and wake up earlier than before. Additionally, her medications for heart disease and arthritis were found to be contributing to her sleep disturbances.

Armed with this knowledge, Helen and her caregiving team implemented changes to address these issues. They adjusted her sleep schedule, limited her daytime naps, and consulted her doctor to review and modify her medications.

They also established a relaxing bedtime routine and improved her sleep environment by investing in a comfortable mattress and ensuring her bedroom was quiet and dark.

As a result of these changes, Helen’s sleep patterns improved dramatically. She now sleeps for 7 to 8 hours a night and feels more rested, energized, and alert during the day.

The improvement in her sleep quality has allowed Helen to re-engage with her favorite hobbies, such as gardening and painting, and spend more quality time with her children and grandchildren.

Helen’s caregivers also benefit from her renewed energy, as they no longer need to worry about her safety and well-being due to excessive sleep. With a proper sleep pattern, Helen and her caregivers can now fully enjoy the golden years of her life.

Why Elderly People Sleep More

Changing Sleep Patterns and Aging

As people age, their sleep-wake cycle and sleep architecture undergo significant changes. The body clock, also known as circadian rhythms, tends to shift earlier, leading to earlier bedtimes and wake times.

Sleep quality may also decline due to decreased deep sleep phases and increased nighttime awakenings.

Your elderly loved ones may experience alterations in their sleep habits for several reasons, including aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and Lewy Body Dementia. These factors can contribute to sleep fragmentation and decreased restorative sleep phases.

It’s essential to understand these changes in sleep patterns and their impact on elderly individuals. Below is a list of common sleep alterations in older adults:

  • Shift in circadian rhythms leading to earlier sleep and wake times
  • Decreased deep sleep phases
  • Increased nighttime awakenings and sleep fragmentation
  • Impact of age-related diseases on sleep quality

Impact of Medical Conditions and Medications

Various medical conditions and medications can also affect sleep in elderly people. Conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain are common among older adults and may disrupt sleep patterns.

Moreover, medications prescribed for these health issues can sometimes cause sleep disturbances as side effects.

Recognizing the link between medical conditions, medications, and sleep disorders is crucial for improving your loved ones’ sleep quality. Here’s an overview of common medical conditions and associated sleep disorders:

  1. Heart disease and sleep apnea
  2. Diabetes and restless leg syndrome
  3. Chronic pain and insomnia

Work with your healthcare professionals to manage these medical conditions effectively and address any sleep-related concerns.

By understanding the connection between aging, medical conditions, and sleep, you can better support your elderly loved ones and help them maintain healthy sleep habits.

Be aware of the common sleep issues among the elderly and make sure to seek appropriate treatment.

Common Sleep Issues in the Elderly

Here are some of the most common sleep disorders and conditions often affecting elderly individuals.

Sleep Disorders

  • Sleep-Disordered Breathing: Sleep-disordered breathing is a group of disorders characterized by abnormal respiratory patterns or insufficient ventilation during sleep. This includes conditions like sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and snoring.
  • Insomnia: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes falling or staying asleep difficult. According to the Sleep Foundation, 10-30% of adults have insomnia.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): RLS is a neurological condition that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs, particularly at night. This can lead to sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation.


  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): OSA is a potentially serious sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep. These pauses in breathing occur when the upper airway collapses or narrows, as mentioned by the Sleep Foundation.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Sleep disturbances and changes in sleep patterns are common in Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association states poor sleep can contribute to memory impairment, daytime agitation, and cognitive decline.
  • Medications and Health Conditions: Various medications, including those prescribed for chronic pain and heart conditions, can interfere with sleep. According to Sleep Foundation, underlying health issues, such as cognitive impairment or cardiovascular problems, can affect sleep quality.

As a caregiver or family member of an elderly person, being aware of these common sleep issues can help you identify potential sleep problems and seek the appropriate respite care, medical advice, or treatment.

The Importance of Sleep Routine and Environment

As a caregiver or family member of an elderly person, understand the importance of establishing a proper sleep routine and improving their sleep environment.

A consistent sleep schedule and a comfortable environment can significantly impact an elderly person’s slumber and overall well-being. 

Establishing a Sleep Schedule

A consistent sleep schedule plays a vital role in maintaining healthy sleep patterns for elderly people. As people age, their circadian rhythms change, leading to earlier sleep and wake times.

To help your elderly loved one establish a sleep schedule, consider the following steps:

  1. Encourage them to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even during weekends.
  2. Limit daytime naps to less than an hour to avoid negatively impacting nighttime sleep.
  3. Provide opportunities for exposure to natural light during the day, as it helps regulate their sleep-wake cycle.
  4. Establish relaxing bedtime routines such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing gentle stretches.

Improving Sleep Environment

The sleep environment significantly affects the quality of slumber. A poorly designed sleep environment can lead to disrupted sleep and impact an elderly person’s overall health.

Here are some tips to improve their sleep environment:

By implementing these suggestions, you can help your elderly loved one establish a consistent sleep routine and create a conducive sleep environment, effectively enhancing their sleep quality and overall health.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Elderly Health

As your loved ones age, it’s essential to understand the impact of sleep deprivation on their health. Inadequate sleep for seniors not only affects mood and memory but can also have far-reaching consequences for their overall well-being.

Common symptoms of sleep deprivation in the elderly include:

  • Fatigue
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Impairment of cognitive abilities
  • Disturbance in sleep cycle

Chronic sleep deprivation may lead to various health problems, such as:

  • Impaired immune function, making it more difficult for your loved one to fight off infections.
  • Increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
  • Increased risk for mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
  • Worsening of existing health conditions, such as arthritis, causing discomfort and pain during sleep.

As a caregiver or family member, ensure that your elderly loved ones are getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Helping them develop healthy sleep habits may significantly improve their emotional and physical health.

Before using any sleep aid, don’t forget to always consult a healthcare professional first.

Managing Sleep Problems in the Elderly

As a caregiver or family member of an elderly person, sleep problems can be a significant challenge. This section will cover tips, treatments, and lifestyle changes for better sleep management in older individuals.

Sleep Treatments and Therapies

There are various treatment options to address sleep problems in the elderly, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Sleep centers: A sleep center, often affiliated with a hospital, provides specialized diagnosis and treatment for sleep disorders under the guidance of trained professionals.
  • Sleep restriction therapy: This therapy aims to reduce time spent in bed without sleep, so sleep time is consistently consolidated with fewer awakenings. Consult with a sleep specialist or sleep center for proper guidance.
  • Sleep aids: Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, such as sleeping pills or melatonin supplements, can be helpful for some older adults. Always consult a healthcare professional before using any sleep aid.
  • Adult daycare centers: Providing seniors with daytime social activities to help regulate their sleep patterns, adult daycare centers help them stay active and engaged during the day, promoting better sleep at night.

Lifestyle Changes for Better Sleep

In addition to treatments, there are several lifestyle changes that can support better sleep for elderly individuals. Some ideas mentioned by the National Sleep Foundation and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society include:

  1. Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Encourage your elderly family member to go to bed and wake up simultaneously each day to maintain healthy circadian rhythms.
  2. Implement a bedtime routine: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to the body that it is time for sleep.
  3. Ensure a comfortable sleep environment: Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool to promote relaxation and sleep.
  4. Limit caffeine intake: Encourage older adults to reduce their consumption of caffeinated beverages, particularly in the afternoon and evening.
  5. Increase daytime physical activity: Regular exercise during the day can help improve sleep quality, as long as it is not too close to bedtime.

By implementing these treatments and making practical lifestyle changes, you can help your elderly loved ones manage their sleep problems and improve their overall quality of life.

Video Guide

Why Do Elderly Sleep So Much? Tips & Advice for Proper Sleep Schedule

Audio Article

Infographic: The Science Behind Elderly Sleep

Elderly Sleep infographicPin
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Critical Care and Support for Elderly with Sleep Issues

As a caregiver or family member, you play a crucial role in addressing sleep issues of the elderly person under your care. Here, we will guide you on providing critical care and support for elderly people facing sleep problems.

First, it is important to understand the unique aspects of sleep in seniors. Elderly individuals may experience changes in sleep patterns, including a decrease in deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep. These changes can contribute to fragmented sleep and cause them to sleep more.

To provide adequate care, consider these steps to help improve their sleep hygiene:

  1. Create a comfortable, dark, and quiet sleep environment.
  2. Encourage maintaining regular sleep and wake schedules.
  3. Limit naps to 30 minutes during the day.
  4. Help them engage in relaxation techniques before bedtime.

When sleep problems persist, consider seeking professional help. A healthcare professional could recommend treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) or prescribe medications.

Respite care is another valuable resource that can provide you with the necessary break and support in taking care of your elderly loved one with sleep issues ( Respite care services include:

  • In-home care
  • Adult day centers
  • Short-term stays in senior care communities

In critical cases, the elderly person may need diagnostic sleep studies or specialized care from a sleep medicine professional.

This care can help identify potential disorders like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome and provide targeted treatment (National Institute on Aging).

Remember that your support and attentiveness can make a significant impact on improving the sleep quality and overall health of the elderly person in your care.

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Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

With over 20 years of experience and certifications as a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® and Senior Home Safety Specialist (SHSS)®, Scott Grant provides reliable recommendations to help seniors maintain independence through informed product and service choices for safe, comfortable living.

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1 thought on “Why Do Elderly People Sleep So Much: Uncovering the Science Behind It”


    Awesome thank you for the information why elderly people sleep so much a friend in Georgia

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