Healthy Aging At Home: Quality of Sleep for Your Elderly Loved Ones

Your loved one’s ability to get regular, quality sleep is a critical piece in supporting both their physical and mental wellness capacity to manage their household’s day-to-day tasks, yet, is frequently a challenge for many people as they age.


There are a number of changes that occur as the body ages that can affect your loved one’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. Age-related changes to the sleep/wake cycle result from hormonal and/or nutritional imbalances, side effects of some medications, and underlying health issues and associated aches and pains. External environmental issues such as light, noise and temperature of the bedroom can also have an impact on the ability to get consistent, quality sleep.


Often, the impact of these changes can be reduced through a combination of simple adjustments to diet, added supplementation, a change to medications, a regular exercise schedule and a means to stay socially connected to family, friends and community.

Specifically, a better understanding of what deficiencies can come about from the body’s decreased ability to absorb nutrients and/or toxicities built up via certain medications and the body’s inability to effectively eliminate them, will provide you with a healthier approach to addressing your loved one’s sleep issues.


While age related issues themselves can be supported, others changes or challenges that come up are often symptoms of something else that’s going on. Timing of your loved one’s last meal of the day, how soon before bed they had fluids and even certain medications’ side effects can all impact the quality of their sleep.



Hormonal/Nutritional Imbalances

Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain which allows it to calm down in order to fall asleep, is stimulated by darkness. As the body ages, less melatonin is produced, making it harder for the brain to calm down enough to allow for sleep.

Cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands is involved in the brain and body’s levels of alertness. The regular rise and fall pattern of this hormone can alter as the body ages, and can therefore be spiking too late in the day and delaying the brain’s ability to calm down enough to fall asleep.

Deficiency in essential nutrients such as Vitamin D3, B12 and Iron can contribute to insomnia, as well as consuming food or beverages with caffeine too late in the day. A good blood test and a full evaluation of their diet should be able to pick up on these deficiencies, so a first, best course of action is to have your loved one tested to clarify what’s going on.

From there, it can be a matter of adjusting the diet and finding quality supplementations to reduce these imbalances which can in turn, help to improve your loved one’s quality of sleep. As always, there can be exceptions so it’s critical to get proper advice and guidance from a qualified healthcare provider.


Medication Side Effects

Some medications have a direct or indirect impact on your loved one’s quality of sleep. A diuretic is a water pill which is typically taken in the morning. If taken too soon before bedtime, it will likely disturb sleep as there will be a need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.


Other medications for blood pressure, heart problems, inflammation and even over the counter cough medications containing alcohol or caffeine can cause insomnia, disrupted sleep patterns and by extension, day-time fatigue.


It’s essential to understand what medications your loved one is taking and exploring options with their doctor as to alternative medications that have fewer sleep disruption side effects.


Underlying Health Issues and their Side Effects

Aches and pains from underlying health issues will often prevent your loved one from getting comfortable enough to fall and/or stay asleep. A double-edged sword here is that often, side effects of medications being taken for an underlying health issue can cause their own issues that can further prevent consistent, quality sleep.


While it’s ideal to focus on addressing and reducing the underlying causes behind the symptoms, that’s a longer-term approach. Meanwhile, more immediate action is necessary to attend to those aches and pains to improve quality of sleep.

Each of these factors overlap with one another, so again, looking at alternative medications without the disruptive side effects is a good, first step. In some instances, some medications can be slowly weaned off. This should be done with the full knowledge and cooperation of your loved one’s doctor.


External Environmental Issues

The brain takes cues from the environment as to when to start winding down and preparing for sleep. An important cue is light. When it starts getting dark, the brain produces melatonin to help it fall asleep. Light at the blue end of the spectrum, such as from the TV or other electronic devices prevent melatonin from being produced and in turn, makes it harder to fall asleep. As mentioned under the hormonal/nutritional section, the production of melatonin decreased as we age. Supplementation can help, as long as it’s been determined by a qualified health practitioner that it’s the best course of action.


Changes to the physical environment of your loved one’s bedroom such as adding black-out curtains, a white noise machine to mask external, disturbing noises, and correcting for room temperature and humidity will go a long way to a good night’s sleep.

Something as simple as the quality of their bed should be considered as well. Is it an old mattress? Can it be turned over? Is it time to invest in a new bed? Proper support of the spine, including best type of pillow to use, is essential for a comfortable, quality sleep.


As you can see, there are a lot of factors that can affect the quality of your loved one’s quality of sleep. They overlap and impact one another on a number of levels, so carefully reviewing and addressing them will go a long way to helping improve their sleep, and in turn, their ability to safely manage their day-to-day household tasks.


Do you need help with taking care of your elderly?

Contact Nancy to inquire about a Caregiver Action Plan assessment where all aspects of care are reviewed in order to help families create a more dynamic and positive experience for the care of their loved ones.

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Nancy Glover, a healthy aging advocate, mentors extraordinary women and men who have stepped into the challenging role of caring for their elderly spouse or parent by managing their well-being in the later stages of life. Blending first-hand expertise with practical step by step systems to support the needs, goals, and desires of the elderly spouse or parent, Nancy helps caregivers maneuver the complex and often challenging role with supportive advocacy and resources that equally focus on everyone’s well-being. Learn more about her at www.agingwithgrace.ca and sign up to receive timely information and strategies to empower caregivers and families in transition.