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home | At Home Care | To Nap, or Not to Nap: Sleep Cycle D . . .

To Nap, or Not to Nap: Sleep Cycle Disturbances And the Elderly

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Down at mid-morning for a nap, and then dozing in the recliner from mid-afternoon until dinner. Then bright-eyed and bushy-tailed until well after midnight, or up and down all night keeping everyone else from a good night's sleep. Is this your elder?

As a caregiver you may treasure the time your senior naps during the day. It's the time you can walk from one room to another without being shadowed and asked constant questions. You can take a shower without worrying about what she's up to. It's the only peace and quiet you get during the day.

On the other hand, if your parent is napping a lot during the day it's a good bet she's probably not sleeping well at night. When she isn't going to bed until after midnight you may be losing your treasured evening privacy with your family. You may not be able to go to bed yourself until she's bedded down, and you certainly don't have the benefit of several naps throughout the day. This situation doesn't usually work out well over the long term!

There's nothing wrong with a 15 to 20 minute "power nap" during the day. Research has shown that we would all benefit from a quick nap. But sleeping for an hour or more, especially in the afternoon, can cause a vicious cycle of sleep problems at night. Because a good nap "took the edge off," your senior may be restless at night. The next day, she is tired because she slept poorly, so she naps more. Before you know it, days and nights can be completely turned around.

If this has become the pattern at your house, you will probably not be able to get your elder's sleep patterns back in sync with the rest of the world's quickly. Not unless you want your head handed to you on a platter, that is. Start by shortening the length of time he spends napping. Each day wake him 15 minutes earlier than than the day before. Have something interesting to do that involves getting out of the chair or the bed and moving around.

  • Open the curtains or the blinds so the room is bright and cheerful. Getting him outside into the sunshine for a few minutes every day will help, too.

  • Avoid giving him a heavy meal in the evening. Indigestion can exacerbate insomnia.

  • Avoid all caffeinated drinks after mid-afternoon. Caffeine is not only a stimulant, it can increase the need to urinate, which your elder doesn't need in the middle of the night.

  • Speaking of liquids, try to decrease the amount of fluid your elder drinks late in the day. Avoid alcohol, of course. It may make your elder sleepy in the evening, but when it wears off in a few hours the after effect may be sleeplessness for the remainder of the night.

  • If your elder is waking several times every night to visit the bathroom, make sure he doesn't have a bladder infection or other medical problem that can be treated.

  • Medications can cause drowsiness. If you think a medication she is taking in the morning may be making your elder sleepy, ask the doctor whether you can switch to giving it at bedtime.

If you don't already have one, start a late evening ritual that leads naturally into getting ready for bed. Turn off the television. A light snack, help changing into bedclothes and a brief wash-up at the same time every evening is a non-verbal signal to the body that it's time to sleep.


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