Quality sleep is that magic elixir that helps us perform at our best every day. Not only does it help us take on every challenge like a champ, but it also keeps our minds sharp, our balance solid, and our cognitive functions agile.
However, when we don’t get good sleep, our quality of life suffers.. Sleep deprivation is debilitating for everyone, but in seniors, it can prove to be fatal by increasing the likelihood of falling.
Fortunately, sleep issues are treatable, and several treatment options are available. In this article, we are going to learn all the ways we can use quality sleep to prevent our loved ones from falling and sustaining injuries:
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Fall Risk
Sleep deprivation is the arch-nemesis of our well-being, and its consequences can be quite serious. No matter the age, when we deprive our bodies of a good night’s sleep, we experience drowsiness, impaired reaction time, reduced alertness, poor focus, decreased cognitive performance, and psychomotor impairment.
Simply put, our mind and body are on low energy reserves and stop working like they’re supposed to.
When we are in a sleep-deprived haze, we can end up in all kinds of dangerous situations such as falling, passing out, or getting into an accident.
Sleep deprivation in older adults can prove to be even more grim. Due to the low bone and muscle density in older adults, even a simple fall can result in serious injuries.
Common Sleep Issues Affecting Seniors
Most older adults need 7.5 hours of sleep a night for their mind and body to function well, which in turn will reduce the risk of falling. If a senior in your care is not sleeping well, there might be an underlying health condition involved. It’s time to investigate deeper and get to the root of the problem.
Let’s have a look at some of the most common sleep issues that affect seniors:
Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where the upper airway collapses or narrows during sleep, can result in frequent interruptions in breathing. The difficulty in breathing disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to headaches, daytime sleepiness, and cognitive difficulties.
Sleep apnea is prevalent among individuals aged 65 and older. Seniors with sleep apnea often experience heavy snoring, which wakes them up in the middle of the night and leads to excessive daytime sleepiness. A visit to a sleep clinic can help diagnose the condition and provide solutions such as CPAP machines.
- Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder
Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a condition that predominantly affects older individuals. It involves the physical enactment of dreams during sleep, which can sometimes be aggressive.
RBD occurs when the chemical responsible for muscle paralysis during rapid eye movement sleep fails to function properly. This disorder is more prevalent in older men and has associations with degenerative neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS), a neurologic disorder, is not specific to any age but tends to have a more significant impact on middle-aged and older adults. The syndrome is characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs to get rid of uncomfortable sensations such as itching, gnawing, throbbing, burning, etc. It tends to happen more often when a person is resting or sleeping.
RLS often causes the legs to jerk in sleep, leading to sleep disruption and sleep deprivation.
Insomnia is one of the most prevalent sleep disorders and can be developed at any age. The condition makes it difficult for a person to fall asleep, stay asleep, or have a restful sleep. Older adults are most likely to develop insomnia due to certain factors including medications and/or psychiatric disorders.
When insomnia goes untreated for a long time, it can lead to severe sleep deprivation and increases the risk of falling due to disorientation, dizziness, and lack of alertness.
Tips for Improving Sleep Hygiene
Fortunately, most sleep disorders in older individuals can be treated with good sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene includes all those practices and habits that help improve sleep quality, combat sleep disruptions, and allow 6 to 8 hours of restful sleep.
These habits can be as simple as meditating before bed or as detailed as taking supplements, scheduling physical activities, visiting a psychiatrist, etc.
Let’s look at some of the top and most effective sleep hygiene tips that help aging individuals get an adequate amount of sleep, and in turn, reduce their risk of falling.
Have you ever noticed how well you sleep after a few laps in the pool? Exhaustion helps in lulling you to sleep. According to Hopkins Medicine, during exercise our body’s temperature rises, sending a signal to the brain that it’s time to stay awake. It is when the temperature starts to go down 30 to 90 minutes later, your mind and body crave sleep. Seniors who struggle with sleeping could go out for a walk or participate in other physical activities an hour before bed.
Stress and anxiety cause a lot of sleepless nights and increase the risk of falling. Moreover, extreme stress and anxiety often lead to panic attacks. This too can increase the chances of falling. Older adults can manage their stress in several ways. Exercise, for example, releases endorphins that reduce stress. Practicing mindfulness, meditating, and building a strong and supportive community around them also helps relieve stress.
Nutrition and food impact our sleep cycle. Eating junk food and having dinner close to bedtime not only disrupts our stomachs but also our sleep. On the other hand, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a daily intake of vitamins and other essential nutrients not only keeps us physically healthy but also improves sleep quality.
If sleep issues continue despite the healthy lifestyle, don’t hesitate to reach out to the professionals. Recognizing the root cause and seeking help can prevent falls and save seniors from serious injuries.
Additional Fall Prevention Strategies
Good nutrients and good sleep help reduce the risk of falling in seniors. However, as a caregiver, you can always take additional precautions to minimize the risk. If your loved one lives alone, fall-proof their house, make additional home safety modifications, and invest in Intouch fall detection units so help can be sent at the right time in case of a fall.
Safeguarding Seniors With Quality Sleep And Fall Prevention
Worrying all the time about your loved one can be stressful and overwhelming. The last thing you’d want is to lose sleep yourself. Use research and expert advice to alleviate your fears and make sure the senior in your care is sleeping well, eating well, and having a secure system around them to prevent them from falling or getting injured.
If you have any questions about taking care of an aging adult, don’t hesitate give us a call at +1 (902) 492-3346 or write to us at Intouch@nwood.ns.ca