As we age just about every physical and mental aspect of our life changes. Some of the most dramatic changes you are sure to notice in your senior loved ones involve their need for sleep and the way they will meet these demands.
Is It Normal for Elderly People to Sleep a Lot?
As the aging process progresses, people tend to get less deep sleep than we are accustomed to getting when we are younger. The sleeping patterns of older people tend to be interrupted by more frequent bathroom needs, the pains of arthritis and other physical conditions as a greater sensitivity to noises, establishing a proper sleep temperature and even the balance and comfort of a senior’s mattress.
One of the most common ways to compensate for this interrupted sleep, is with more frequent napping during the day. So, it is quite natural for older people to nap more frequently, feel tired and sleepy all of a sudden and even head off to bed earlier than usual. Typically, there is no need for concern.
But if you notice that your loved one is spending more time than usual sleeping or sleeping for the greater part of each day, this could be indicative of a larger problem. The important thing is to understand what is causing their need for more sleep and address all environmental factors first.
After this you will have a clearer idea of what is causing the need for more sleep and can take measures to improve the health and sleeping habits of your aging loved-one.
8 Common Causes of Excessive Sleep in the Elderly
Here are some of the more common reasons elderly people sleep so much:
An Aging Circadian Rhythm
Right in the middle of their 50s or 60, it is quite common for adults to see a change in both the quality and duration of their sleep. This is often caused by changes in the ticking of their internal master clock. The body has a clock located in the hypothalamus region of the brain. This Master Clock is responsible for maintaining the circadian rhythms that regulate your daily cycles.
Circadian rhythms are responsible for making you feel tired at bedtime, hungry at meal times and energetic at work and playtime. The body’s clock has an important timetable for releasing special chemicals, called hormones that initiate these important boy processes.
As we age, this part of the brain ages too. As the special brain cells that make up the Master Clock in the hypothalamus begin to age, their functions begin to decline as well. This can mean the vital timetable can become skewed to any degree. One of the most common results of a deteriorating hypothalamus is feeling alert when you ought to feel sleepy and vice versa.
Poor Regulation of Melatonin
But a deteriorating hypothalamus is not the only thing that can compromise regular sleeping habits. It is well-known that circadian rhythms take their rhythm from the light of the sun. Sunlight plays an important role in the production and regulation of melatonin, the “sleepy time” hormone. When the sun is up, melatonin is removed from the body’s chemical activities. As the sun goes down, melatonin is restored and the body prepares itself for sleep.
Because many seniors don’t get outside and engage the full light of the sun as often as they ought to, their melatonin cycle can be thrown off. Without proper regulation and production of melatonin, it is harder to fall asleep and the quality of sleep is greatly reduced.
Then, there is the fact that melatonin production in itself is greatly reduced in older people. Furthermore, seniors who are prone to stress and anxiety, may have high levels of cortisol in their bodies which can further deplete what little melatonin they may be producing.
Insufficient Sleep at Night
It is true that your senior relative may not be using the same mental and physical effort as they had been, but their needs for 7 –8 hours of quality sleep are still just as great. If deprived of sleep during their regular sleep times, seniors will feel tired and fatigued more easily and will sometimes doze off at the most inopportune or unexpected times. To compensate for poor sleep habits and poor-quality sleep, many seniors can and should take up the time-honored habit of napping throughout the day.
The only time that you should be concerned about your elderly loved one napping during the day is if it seems that they are spending all their time in bed and avoiding any other form of engagement.
One of the most important things you can do to help your aging relative is to understand their need for more sleep and look for as many ways as you can to strengthen their sleep habits and quality.
Here are some of the factors that can detract from top-quality sleep at night and cause your elderly relative to take more naps and sleep more at odd hours of the day:
The food we eat can also affect the amount we sleep. There has been a considerable amount of evidence proving that eating processed, spicy and fatty foods as well as foods with a high glycemic index can be especially bad for sleeping habits.
Alcoholic beverages can make a person feel tired and sleepy, but will also impact the quality of their restful sleep and can lead to a senior to feel more tired and sluggish the following day. Caffeine is another major detractor from getting well-balanced sleep at night and can lead to imbalanced sleep patterns as well.
Television and Mobile Devices
Many elderly people will take more time to relax in their favorite easy-chair and watch television or communicate with their friends and family on mobile devices. It has been noted that these screens emit a blue light that can seriously hamper melatonin production and impact sleep quality.
If your elderly relative is having a hard time sleeping at night, try convincing them to shut off the TV and put their mobile device away for at least an hour before they go to bed each night.
Lack of Exercise
Getting healthy exercise is as important for seniors as it is for everyone else. But when it comes to getting good sleep at night, regular exercise plays an especially important role in seniors’ capacity for top-quality sleep.
Exercise expends all the energy stored in the body and allows for more restful sleep. Plus, getting out in the sunlight improves the regulation of melatonin and allows for higher levels of the important “sleepy-time” chemical once the sun goes down and it is time for bed.
Depression is known to cause increased sleepiness in a person of any age, but even more so in seniors who may already be suffering from affected sleep patterns. According to the CDC, depression affects as much as 5% of the senior population in the United States.
Depression can be caused by a great number of factors as well. Some of these include medical conditions, loss of loved ones, lifestyle changes and chemical imbalances in the body. It is important that signs of depression in the elderly are not ignored as there are many treatments available for this fairly common medical condition.
Another common reason for increased sleepiness in elderly relatives and loved one can be connected to their medications. Medications can carry a long list of side effects and many of these can directly or indirectly affect their sleeping habits. Some medications can cause increased sleepiness.
If your senior relative is taking medication that causes sleepiness or drowsiness, they may feel these effects much more intensely than a younger person would. This may cause them to sleep earlier, rise later and even fall asleep while in their comfortable recliner.
Then, there are medications that can interrupt regular sleep patterns. When this happens, your elderly relative may compensate for their lack of sleep with extra napping throughout the day. They may also sleep later and go to bed earlier to get back some of the sleep they are lacking.
Why do Elderly People Sleep So Much?
Elderly people are prone to many conditions of physical and mental health that are best addressed with a little extra sleep in their daily schedule. It is important to keep a close eye on the sleeping habits of your aging relatives to ensure they are not suffering from any serious conditions.
If you notice that your elderly loved one is getting more sleep than usual, talk to them about this and see if you can address some of the environmental factors that could be impacting the quality of their sleep.