The 411 on Elderly Insomnia

Did you know that insomnia in seniors is very common, affecting nearly 50% of all adults 60 and older? 

There are few things that can be more tiresome—literally and figuratively—than suffering from lack of sleep, whether it’s for several nights in a row or weeks and months at a time. Not only can it create sheer exhaustion, but insomnia—particularly in the elderly—can lead to memory loss, irritability, depression and falls that can lead to broken bones. 

Quality sleep is vital for rejuvenating the body. Research from the National Institute for Health and other organizations reveal that seniors tend to sleep lighter, meaning they wake up more easily, as well as sleep for shorter spans. When people have trouble sleeping, it’s often as a result of two causes: Sleep Onset Insomnia, which is the inability to initially fall asleep—and Sleep Maintenance Insomnia, which is the inability to remain asleep throughout the night. Both are frustrating and common in the elderly, which can lead to devastating daytime health problems and consequences. 

What causes insomnia in nearly 50% of all seniors? Let’s examine some of the top possibilities. 

Underlying medical problems. While lack of sleep can feel like a medical problem, insomnia on the whole can be a result of a more prominent medical concern, such as heart and lung conditions, urinary issues, side effects from medications as well as neurodegenerative disorders. 

Sleep Apnea. SRBD, or Sleep-Related-Breathing-Disorder, can lead to severe insomnia, since it causes problems with breathing. It is said that anywhere from a third to one-half of all seniors have SRBD diagnoses. 

Restless Leg Syndrome. This is a medical problem that can be highly frustrating, as it causes sensations that make a patient feel the sensations of itching, crawling or restlessness while a person is attempting to fall asleep. Restless Leg Syndrome is thought to be related to decreased levels of dopamine and iron in the brain. This can lead to endless hours of unfortunate Sleep Onset Insomnia. 

Elderly insomnia is a topic to be discussed with doctors, as there are a variety of medication-related remedies, each coming with their own benefits and side effects. Everyone deserves a good night’s sleep, especially our older population. Physical exams, sleep diaries, as well as sleep studies have all proven to be useful in getting to the bottom of this condition.

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