Caregiver Guide: Sleep Problems

Understanding the Problem

People of all ages can have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or have poor quality sleep (insomnia). There are many possible causes including stress, changes in schedule, diet, or as a side effect of medicines. As people age, they generally spend less time in the deepest stages of sleep. After age 40, sleep becomes lighter and it is easier to wake up.

Sleep is considered a problem only when the person is not satisfied with their sleep, when the person feels drowsy or has other related symptoms the following day, or when the sleep problem suggests a serious underlying illness.
Sometimes making a few simple lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise during the day, is all that is necessary for a person to begin sleeping soundly. At other times a health problem such as stress, hormonal changes, poor nutrition, or drinking alcoholic beverages may cause insomnia.

The most common reason for a sudden change in sleep patterns is emotional stress or nervousness. Depression can keep people up and awakes them at early hours.

Dementia frequently alters sleep/wake patterns.  A person with dementia may sleep during the daytime then stay awake and even wander at night. Medicines such as diuretics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicines, painkillers, and drugs for Parkinson's disease can also affect sleep patterns.

Sometimes people show odd behaviors while sleeping, which may be noticed only by a spouse or companion. Behaviors such as moving the arms or legs, kicking, loud snoring, or choking sounds are signs of possible sleep disorders. These should be brought to the healthcare provider’s attention.

One disorder to be concerned about is sleep apnea, a condition in which people briefly stop breathing while asleep. This causes them to wake up many times during the night. Sleep apnea can cause fatigue the next day and is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart failure.

Your goals are to:

  • Encourage a set routine for going to bed and waking up

  • Check all medicines to see if they could affect sleep

  • Check the patterns of use of caffeine and alcohol to see if they might be affecting sleep

  • Make the bedroom safe and comfortable


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Last Updated July 2015