You’ve probably heard the term granny nap. It’s used to describe a short sleep in the afternoon and is often thrown around lightheartedly. But when you think about it, elderly people do tend to have an afternoon nap and for the most part, this is OK.
As we get older, many of our routines change and this includes our sleep patterns. I think about my own father who is fast approaching 70. He’ll get up at 4am as he is wide awake but by the early afternoon, he’s ready for a nap. Is this normal? And why do older people sleep more during the day?
I wanted to explore this and understand the changing sleep patterns in seniors. Knowing these things can help us to determine whether our elderly relatives are sleeping too much, whether they’re getting the best sleep quality and what we can do to help.
What Is A Normal Amount Of Sleep For An Older Adult?
It’s not easy to determine if someone is sleeping too much or too little because the right amount of sleep does vary between individuals. For example, where some adults can function perfectly well on six hours a night, others might need eight.
However, one thing that we can be sure of is that sleep is incredibly important whether you are young or old. When we sleep, our bodies regenerate and our health is improved. Quality sleep can help with mental health, keeping depression at bay, improves our cognitive skills, reduces inflammation and cuts the risk of conditions like obesity.
But poor sleep can result in a whole host of health problems, not to mention it makes you feel pretty rotten throughout the day.
So, with that in mind, we have to consider that experts recommend getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. But those same sleep experts consider that the elderly actually need less sleep than people in younger age groups. This is up for debate and there have been some suggestions that it isn’t true.
The problem is that, as we get older, we tend to wake up more frequently during the night. This could be to use the bathroom, because of pain and many other reasons. These regular wakings in the night could leave seniors feeling more tired during the day which may lead to more frequent naps.
Why Is My Elderly Loved One Sleeping So Much?
If you have noticed a change in an older friend or family member’s sleeping patterns then this could be a result of many things. As I have mentioned, waking in the night and not getting a good quality sleep can cause fatigue during the day.
But there are plenty of other possible causes. For example, many seniors take copious amounts of medication and a lot of these have side effects such as drowsiness. They may also have underlying health conditions, yet to be diagnosed that may cause them to feel fatigued. One of the first things you should do if you suspect an elderly relative of sleeping too much is to get their health checked.
Moreover, older adults are at serious risk of loneliness and boredom, both of which can lead to depression. When we retire or lose a spouse, our lives can often go from being full and rich to empty with very little to do. Senior isolation is a real problem and those over the age of 75 are at an even greater risk.
Reasons That A Lot Of Sleep Is ‘Normal’ In Seniors
Sometimes, an older adult may be sleeping a lot because of a terminal illness. In situations like these, perhaps where the adult is staying in a hospice for end of life care, excessive sleep shouldn’t be seen as a concern.
In many of these situations, the elderly person may be receiving pain relief treatment, some of which can be very potent and cause severe drowsiness. The very point of this end of life care is to keep the patient comfortable and free from pain up until the time of death.
Things Your Elderly Relative Can Do For A Better Night’s Sleep
If you have a loved one that is sleeping a lot in the day and it’s not related to a health condition or other external factor, the chances are that they are struggling to get a decent sleep at night. Don’t worry, they’re not alone; according to the Sleep Foundation, as many as 70% of seniors have problems sleeping.
Research has shown time and again that healthy sleep habits can go a long way in improving the quality of our sleep at night. It’s important to work with your older friend or family member so that they can get the best shut eye each night. Here are some of the things you might consider:
- Take exercise early in the day as opposed to during the evening. The brain releases feel good hormones after exercising which can keep you awake.
- Only drink caffeine in the morning and avoid all other stimulants after around 3pm.
- Set a stable bedtime routine where you go to bed at the same time every night. It can also be useful to wake up at the same time every morning; using an alarm can help with this.
- Make sure that the bed is only used for sleeping (and perhaps the odd bit of romance) but nothing else.
- The bedroom should be a tranquil and relaxing place with no distractions.
- Avoid screen time directly before bed and try activities such as meditation or taking a bath instead.
- If you find yourself unable to drop off to sleep, don’t stay in bed. Go and find something else to do until you start to feel tired and then try again.
- We all know the importance of staying hydrated but try to drink most of your daily intake earlier in the day. This is the best way to prevent being woken with the urge to use the bathroom.
Getting enough sleep, and good quality sleep is important regardless of your age. But you may notice that older adults sleep a lot more than someone much younger. There could be several reasons for this but one of the most common is that they’re not getting enough sleep during the night.
The best way to tackle this is by creating healthy sleep habits and sticking to a routine. However, sometimes, too much sleep could be caused by an underlying health condition, in which case, you should seek medical advice.