Common Sleep Disrupting Disorders in Older Adults

According to acclaimed sleep scientist Katherine Crowley, nearly “50% of older adults complain about difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep.”

With such a high probability, it may leave many caregivers with a query: why do so many seniors have trouble finding a good night’s sleep? 

While no two seniors are the same, according to a home health care professional there are common patterns that can be found within the insomniac elderly population. The following will explore five common causes of insomnia in seniors. Whether you’re sleepless as a senior, or a home health aide trying to instill regular bedtime, here are five sleep disorders in seniors.

1. Sleep Apnea

Nearly 13 to 32% of elderly individuals have sleep apnea. This is a breathing disorder in which the upper airway is repeatedly obstructed. This causes the individual to stop breathing for periods of time. The breath often returns in the form of a gasp or snort, abruptly jolting the individual awake and disrupting their sleep. 

2. Periodic Limb Movements

Another common sleep disorder is periodic limb movements. It occurs when muscles in legs contract repeatedly during rest, causing sleep to be interrupted nearly 15 instances every hour. Almost 45% of older adults live with this disorder, and many require medication to aid in quelling their symptoms. 

3. Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a disorder that manifests in the legs, but can be traced back to the brain. As a neurological disorder, it can cause the elderly individual to feel ‘restless’ when the body is reclined. They may feel a compulsory need to move their legs, thus interrupting any relaxing or sleep cycles.

4. Circadian Rhythm Disorder

This disorder is, quite simply, when the body’s natural sleep and waking rhythm is out of tune with the world around it. It is often seen in older individuals as it can be caused by medication side effects, hormonal aging changes, neurological decline, etc.

5. REM – Behavior Disorder

This disorder is also commonly known as sleepwalking. While many of us dream, we go to fanciful places while staying in the comfort of our own beds. This is because our brain has excreted a paralyzing hormone that allows us to experience dreams without acting them out. 

For those living with REM disorder, the hormone is not excreted, and they often act out their dreams in real life. This is sleepwalking, and for some older adults, this can be a dangerous disruptor of sleep!