Sleeplessness in Seniors
We spend one third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is essential to our growth and development and plays a direct role in how energetic, effective, and successful the other two thirds of our lives can be including our quality of longevity.
According to The National Sleep Foundation, along with the physical changes that occur as we get older, changes to our sleep patterns are a part of the normal aging process. As people age they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. In fact, research demonstrates that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood.
The same foundation also claims that what keeps seniors awake is changes in the patterns of our sleep—what specialists call "sleep architecture" occur as we age and this may contribute to sleep problems. Sleep occurs in multiple stages including dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). During REM, the portions of our brain responsible for learning become active. If sleep is cut short, because we can’t fall asleep or have a restless slumber as a side effect of medications, it directly impacts our cognitive abilities. We wake up less prepared, unable to think quickly or clearly, have difficulty solving problems, and remembering details. We are unable to concentrate or to engage fully in social activities, learning, work, and to effectively demonstrate everyday living skills. As well, our performance of some physical tasks is diminished when we are sleep deprived.
People who suffer from critical illness can also go a very long time without proper REM sleep, like sufferers of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, heart attacks and stroke sufferers, and as a result can become paranoid and hallucinate. Research suggests that much of the sleep disturbance among the elderly can be attributed to physical and psychiatric illnesses and the medications used in treatment, many of these can be stress related.
As seniors, if we want to take advantage of sleep’s benefits, we need to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. We need to clear or discharge the stress so we can change the behaviour and we need to ensure our medications maximize our sleep opportunities.
But how do we do this? First, you need to visit your GP and review every medication together you are taking to ensure that all medications are still necessary, discuss the side effects, and find out alternatives and if there are ways that the medication can be scheduled to be more supportive of healthy sleep patterns. After meeting with your GP it is important to visit your pharmacist for a 2nd option. Pharmacists are trained to look at the medicines you’re taking to see whether they might cause an adverse drug reaction. You can also ask them about flexibility of time of use and the various combinations. If it seems complicated, most pharmacies will blister pack your medications by date and time of dose, free of charge, and many deliver to seniors for free.
Second, once the medication management side is taken care of, it is time to turn on your learning brain by strengthening and re-educating our brain’s anatomy, neural networks, and cognitive abilities to ultimately get more quality sleep! We need to clear or discharge the stress so we can change the behaviour and maximize your sleep opportunities. Simply put, this is brain fitness, and easy to do through out your day. We will review the mechanics and the how-to’s in our next blog post. If you feel this blog is helpful we welcome you to “like” our page and follow us so you don’t miss part 2 of this future and more valuable material and guidance.