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Sleep disorders are fairly common in the elderly. Older individuals tend to experience less deep sleep and wake up frequently in the night, which can lead to daytime fatigue. The elderly may also have trouble falling asleep and may also wake up early in the morning. Sleep disorders in the elderly can be caused by a number of factors, including medication, diseases, and poor sleeping habits. Depending on the cause, there are a number of different treatment options.
There are several primary sleep disorders associated with aging. If you have a primary sleep disorder, you may have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently throughout the night, and feel excessively tired during the day. Primary sleep disorders include:
The elderly may also experience sleep problems due to underlying medical conditions. These conditions include:
Many elderly individuals are also on medications that can disrupt sleep. Medications commonly associated with sleep problems include:
Caffeine, alcohol, and smoking may also contribute to sleep problems.
When you are having problems with sleeping, your doctor will begin by asking you about your symptoms. Your doctor will also conduct a physical examination to look for any underlying physical conditions that may be causing your sleep problems. If your doctor suspects a primary sleep disorder, he or she will send you for a sleep study, also called a polysomnogram.
A sleep study is usually done at night in a sleep lab. For this test, you will have electrodes placed on your face and scalp to measure facial movements and brain activity. A strap will be placed across your chest and a detector placed by your nose to monitor your breathing. You may also have a device placed on your finger to measure the oxygen in your blood. For this test, you will sleep as you normally would at home. During the night, a technician will watch you on a camera and monitor the information from the devices on your body to look for signs of a sleep disorder.
Developing proper sleeping habits can help solve sleeping problems. If you are having sleeping problems, your doctor may suggest you try home treatment methods before trying medical treatment. Good sleep habits include:
If you have underlying diseases that are interfering with your sleep, your doctor may prescribe medication to help ease the symptoms of these conditions.
Sleeping pills can also help to ease the symptoms of your sleep disorder. However, sleeping pills should only be taken for a short-term basis. You should also never drink alcohol while taking sleeping pills. Sleeping pills should be used no more than four days per week and should not be used for several days in a row.
Your doctor may also suggest melatonin, a synthetic hormone, to help you fall asleep faster and to restore your sleep-wake cycle.
Other medical treatments for sleep disorders in the elderly include:
Written by: Janelle Martel
Medically reviewed : George Krucik, MD
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