Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Seniors sleep when they need to, not necessarily when it’s convenient. So, it’s not unusual to see Mom or Dad dozing off in the afternoon. It’s their daily siesta! It’s ok—they need it. Remember, quality of sleep often deteriorates as we age. In fact, nearly half of men and women over the age of 65 say they have at least one sleep problem.
It’s a fact that as we get older, our sleep patterns change. In general, seniors sleep less, wake up and go back to sleep more often, and spend less time in deep sleep than younger people.
But regardless of your age, you still need quality rest to be healthy.
Let’s take a look at a few of the more common reasons seniors nap so much, along with a few tips to help Mom and Dad sleep better at night.
Sleep deprivation is the most common cause of daytime sleepiness. This can be caused by something as simple as a bedroom that’s too warm or cool, a heightened sensitivity to noise or light, too much caffeine during the day, achy joints at night, or frequent trips to the bathroom due to an overactive bladder.
Stemming from different reasons than just discussed, having a sleep disorder definitely affects your parents’ ability to sleep well, causing them to be tired during the day. These disorders can include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome (RLS), periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), and REM behavior disorder. Each of these conditions will prevent your parents from getting the sound, restful sleep they need.
Boredom and a Lack of Activities
Your once-active mother is now less active. Whether because of health conditions that limit her ability to do certain things, not being socially connected at your place, or social-distancing and other pandemic-related reasons, there may be less to do and occupy her time. Simply put, Mom may be napping a lot because she’s bored and there’s just nothing better to do.
Also, if she isn’t getting enough physical activity during the day, then not only might she get bored, but this lack of activity could make it harder for her to fall asleep at night.
It may come as no surprise that researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Public Health & Human Sciences estimate that Americans age 65 years and older take an average of four prescription medications. While beneficial in its intended way, all medications have side effects. Some medications cause drowsiness, so that nap could be related to Dad’s medicine. Other drugs could actually stimulate him and make it difficult to sleep, so this could not only make it difficult for him to go to sleep at night, but to stay asleep, and hence the daytime nap.
And then, remember that’s the side effect for just one medication. Consider the possible multiplied effect of taking several medications with sleep side effects. It all adds up.
So, What to Do About All the Napping?
Depending on why your parents are frequently napping, the best thing may be to just let them nap. Not all day, mind you, but a brief nap at some point in the day may be just what their bodies need to rejuvenate and refresh.
Here are some tips to help improve your parents’ nighttime sleep, and hopefully reduce or eliminate the need for a daytime nap:
Exercise – If physically able, make sure your parents exercise every day. Even a walk around the block or through a park will help improve the quality of their sleep. Yoga and deep-breathing exercises can also improve your parents’ sleep.
Activities – Get Mom or Dad involved in activities. As a Wellness Warrior, you know I firmly believe that having a purpose in our senior years gives us a reason to get up. See if there is a safe way they can volunteer at a local church, community center, or foodbank. If your parent can’t get out of the house, then involve them in things around the house. Folding clothes, helping to plan meals, and watching your little ones are ways that they can help you and feel like they are contributing.
Good Sleep Routines – There are several good, simple habits that will develop into healthy sleep routines. Get your parents to start doing these to help them get the nighttime rest they need:
Avoid all forms of caffeine for 6-8 hours prior to bedtime. Not only does this include that afternoon cup of coffee or tea (hot or iced), it also includes chocolate. While this can present its own set of challenges, finding different beverages and snacks for them can help them sleep better and even improve their health.
Avoid alcohol before bed. While that glass of wine might help Mom go to sleep, the sugars in it will wake her up in the middle of the night (and possibly cause her to have to go to the bathroom).
Avoid large quantities of liquids before going to bed.
Avoid electronics that emit blue light for an hour or two prior to going to bed. These include the television, smart phone, and tablets/computers. This can be a nice time to listen to music, read a [physical] book, or take a soothing bath. If they insist on watching tv right up until bedtime, consider having them wear special glasses that block the blue light.
They should go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. This routine will help train the body to know when it’s supposed to sleep.
While short naps can be helpful, longer naps will cause your parent to stay awake longer in the evening and not be sleepy at bedtime. Try and encourage your parent to limit naps.
Medications – Be sure to consult with the pharmacist or your parents’ physicians regarding any side effects their meds might have on sleeping, especially if taking several different medications that might have a compounding effect. Also check to see if taking a melatonin supplement would be helpful.
Your Parents’ Sleeping Environment – Ensure that your parents’ sleeping environment is a comfortable temperature, dark, and free of distractions.
Sleep Journal – As a Wellness Warrior, you likely know that I keep a daily health log, where I track various things about my health. Keeping a sleep journal can help track patterns and be better able to help your parent pinpoint the reason for napping. It is also very beneficial for your parents to share this information with their doctor.
There are many reasons your mom or dad might be napping, and there are many ways to help them improve their sleep. Keep track of the points mentioned above, and don’t hesitate to contact their physician if you become concerned. In the meantime, be ready to accommodate their need for sleep and an earlier bedtime than yours.
Tell me, have you had success helping your senior parents with sleep? What worked for you? Please share with us all below.
Next time, in our continuing adventures of your parents living with you during the pandemic, I’ll share more about whether the things your parents are doing are “normal.” Join me then.
Live Well, Live Long!