Which Sleep Problems Commonly Affect the Elderly?

Topics: sleeping problem, sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, sleep problem

In the present times, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if someone you know is suffering from a sleep disorder. For those who are not aware, a sleep disorder can be defined as a sleeping pattern or habit that negatively impacts your health. Patients with this health issue experience problems with quality, timing, and the amount of sleep.

Which Sleep Problems Commonly Affect the Elderly

In people suffering from rest disorders, daytime distress and reduced productivity are common. Although these problems can occur in people of any age, they are more common in older adults because of medication, underlying sleep issues, and health problems. For those interested in knowing more about the common sleep problems in older adults, information is available in the following sections! Here you go!

What causes sleep disorders in elders?

Almost all old-aged people report changed sleep patterns and little trouble with falling asleep. This is a normal occurrence. But, if you are experiencing disturbed sleep and waking up tired as you age, you should contact a sleep expert. It is so because resting for fewer hours, waking up frequently during the night or early morning, and getting poor quality rest may result in health concerns like an increased risk of falling and daytime fatigue. So, here is a list of a few possible reasons for poor sleep, as understanding them may help resolve the issue.

Health problems causing sleep troubles

A primary sleep problem is when another medical or psychiatric cause is not responsible for troubled sleep. In contrast, secondary issues result from medical, neurotic, or other similar problems.

  • Gastrointestinal problems: These diseases affect the gastrointestinal tract that stretches from mouth to anus. Some examples include GERD and irritable bowel syndrome. These problems can lead to restless nights for many people.

  • Alzheimer’s disease: Daytime drowsiness and difficulty in staying asleep at night are common issues in people with Alzheimer’s.
  • Chronic pain: Pain accompanying problems like arthritis doesn’t let you sleep. As a result, people keep tossing and turning in their beds.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Experts suggest that people with developed cardiovascular conditions rest fewer than 6.5 hours, increasing the risk of death.
  • Neurological conditions: Problems like multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury can make you lose sleep for an indefinite period.
  • Parkinson’s disease: In people with this neurodegenerative disorder, the severity of the condition increases with age. Most patients with this problem develop obstructive sleep apnea as they grow older.

Other reasons responsible for sleep problems:

  • Medications: Most old adults are on medication. They are taking pills for one disease or another. A few drugs that may lead to poor sleep include anti-depressants and antihypertensive medicines.
  • Caffeine: Taking caffeine may disrupt your body clock and reduce sleep time. Thus, it is advised not to consume products like coffee, tea, and soft drinks after the daytime.
  • Alcohol: Consuming alcohol relaxes your throat muscles, which can cause obstruction in the airway and result in sleep apnea.
  • Nicotine: Nicotine can disrupt circadian rhythm. It may cause daytime sleepiness and reduced sleep time at night.

What are the common sleep problems in older adults?

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): Common in people over 40, obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where the patient experiences a pause in breathing. It results due to blockage in the airway.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome: Although restless leg syndrome may affect people of any age, it is more common in middle-aged and older adults. Here, the patient experiences an overwhelming urge to move his legs at night.
  • REM behaviour disorder: A condition where people act out their dreams while resting occurs when the brain chemicals that paralyze the muscles during REM sleep do not function properly. It has been observed that people who are over 60 and have Parkinson’s disease can have RBD.
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorder: In patients with this condition, the daily sleep-wake cycle gets disrupted. As the efficiency of the internal clock decreases, you may fall asleep late and wake up earlier.
  • Insomnia: Insomnia prevents people from falling or staying asleep and may make them wake up early in the morning. Many older people above 65 years of age show symptoms of this condition.
  • Periodic limb movement: People with this condition experience an involuntary movement of limbs during sleep. Although there is no known cause for this problem, experts believe it originates from the central nervous system.

How can you diagnose sleep problems in the elderly?

Older adults dealing with sleep troubles should fix an appointment with their doctors asap. To make the diagnosis, the healthcare experts will enquire about the symptoms. If they suspect a sleep problem, they might request a physical examination. They may also ask you to keep a sleep diary for a week or two to know more about your sleep patterns.

If your doctor suspects a primary sleep disorder, particularly OSA, they may recommend polysomnography or an at-home sleep test.


Sleep problems in older adults are quite common. A few conditions that affect rest quality in aged people are obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, circadian rhythm sleep disorder, periodic limb movement, restless leg syndrome, and REM sleep disorder. Probable reasons for these conditions include medications, high intake of caffeine, and health problems.

Disclaimer: The article is suggestive in nature and meant for informational purposes only. The readers are advised to practice caution and consult a healthcare professional before pursuing any suggested steps.

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