As people age, they often don’t have as deep or as restful sleep as they did when they were younger. Aches and pains can pull them out of sleep, or more frequent bathroom trips. They may struggle to fall asleep in the first place, or sleep so lightly that they wake up at a slight noise or as soon as it is light outside. Because of the lack of sleep, many elderly adults benefit from a nap in the day. However, some seniors sleep all day, and this can worry their family caregivers. After all, is it normal for elderly adults to sleep all day?
Daytime sleeping becomes a problem when an elder spends the majority of the day dozing in a chair rather than engaging in life. Some sleep experts suggest that seniors actually need less sleep than other age groups. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep whereas many seniors can get away with 7.5 hours. Other experts believe that seniors need just as much sleep as the rest of the population. However, as we get older, we experience lighter sleep, waking up throughout the night, and may have more difficulty getting to bed.
The answer to the question is truly multifaceted and varied between seniors. There are numerous causes of why seniors might be experiencing irregular sleeping patterns or snoozing throughout the day. Considerations of such variability include the following common causes:
Boredom in the Elderly
As people age, they may suffer from chronic health conditions and age-related changes that affect their ability to do the things they enjoy. When options for outings, activities and entertainment are limited, it can deal a serious blow to an elder’s quality of life. They aren’t working anymore, they may struggle with reading or puzzles because of poor eyesight, and eventually they grow tired of watching TV. In these cases, elders may not be clinically depressed or even all that tired. Instead, their fatigue stems from the fact that they are incredibly bored. With no schedule to keep and not much to look forward to in their lives, they slide into the habit of napping throughout most of the day.
Medication Side Effects
One common cause of an elderly adult to sleep all day is because of a side effect of medicine. While medications provide benefits to health and are oftentimes necessary, they also come with side effects. A wide variety of prescriptions (including antibiotics, antidepressants, and diuretics) may result to fatigue itself or restlessness and sleep disturbances, leading to inadequate sleep during nighttime hours.
Common medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure drugs and even the result of mixing several medications together can result in excessive sleepiness. If an elderly relative was alert and active before starting on a certain medication, it’s worth asking their doctor about possible side effects. Similarly, a vitamin deficiency may also trigger sleepiness, and a doctor can do different tests to determine if that may be the root of the problem.
Another cause of excessive sleep in seniors centers on mental health issues. Untreated depression can make even the most involved person step back from socializing and getting involved in life. Depression is significantly underdiagnosed in the elderly, so this could be a cause. As seniors lose mobility and independence, they often experience boredom, which can lead to long bouts of sleepiness. Day after day of television, puzzles and puttering around the house isn’t stimulating, so many elderly adults just sleep the day away out of boredom. Family members can help liven up their loved one’s life through visitors, outings and time at a senior center or adult day care.
Interestingly, the link between depression and sleep deprivation is two sided: Depression may cause sleep problems and sleep problems may cause depressive disorders or characteristics. In fact, insomnia is a hallmark symptom of clinical depression.
Unless the elderly person is dealing with the last stages of a disease, experiencing another health issue or approaching the end of life, it isn’t really typical for them to sleep all day. Family caregivers should work with other family members, friends, elder care aides and community senior resources to fill their days with activities and interactions to keep them going, both physically and mentally.
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