October 10th, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Helping elders sleep more, and more soundly

by Dorian Martin

Every morning, Dad and I engage in the same conversation. “How did you sleep?” I ask him at the first sign of his moving around. His reply: “I slept, but I didn’t sleep soundly.”

We continue to try to piece together what is behind Dad’s sleep issues. About six years ago, I noticed that Dad was snoring quite a bit. He agreed to have a sleep test, which pinpointed sleep apnea. That condition often disrupts sleep, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. To get his sleep apnea under control, Dad now uses a machine designed for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) at night, which has helped some.

However, he still isn’t resting well, so I’m constantly looking for what else can be done to aid his sleep. I’ve suggested changes in the environment such as closing the drapes to lower the light level in his bedroom. I also have tried to move dinner time to no later than 7 p.m. so he can sufficiently digest his food and not have acid reflux.

8 issues that keep elders up at night

It turns out that seniors often have difficulty sleeping; as people age, sleep can become less deep and more choppy. “A healthy 70 year old may wake up four times during the night without it being due to disease,” reports MedLine Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Causes for sleep problems in the elderly include the following:

  1. Alzheimer’s disease
  2. Caffeine or other stimulants
  3. Chronic conditions
  4. Lack of exercise
  5. Medications
  6. Neurological conditions
  7. Pain
  8. Urinary frequency

In addition, older people usually need less sleep than younger people — between 30 and 60 minutes less, according to MedLine Plus.

Seeking solutions for deeper sleep

My father is prescribed a beta blocker for high blood pressure, and this type of medication can cause trouble sleeping, according to the Mayo Clinic. I read with interest a HealthDay article about a small study of 16 adults with hypertension who were taking beta blockers. One group of participants was assigned to take 2.5 milligrams of melatonin every night for three weeks, while the other group was given a placebo.

During the study, each participant took part in an overnight sleep test that analyzed brain waves, muscle tone, heart rate and eye movements. The researchers found that the group using melatonin fell asleep faster and slept longer, an average of 36 minutes more than the group taking the placebo. Melatonin cut the awake time for participants from about 20 percent to 12 percent, reported the lead author of the study, Dr. Frank Scheer of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

I’m going to encourage Dad to talk to his doctor about his sleep issues and bring up the subject of melatonin, which is available as an over-the-counter supplement. I’m hopeful that his doctor will give the “go ahead” and that this supplement can help Dad enjoy a good night’s sleep.

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One Response to “Helping elders sleep more, and more soundly”

  1. Kara

    My grandmother used to sleep horribly because she lives alone and she was always scared of intruders. In order to make her feel more comfortable in the night hours, our family bought her a medical alert necklace. She now sleeps with ease and peace of mind. I highly recommend it!!

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