How to Help Cure Insomnia

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Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint at any age. It affects almost half of adults 60 and older.

If your loved one has insomnia, he/she may experience any one or any combination of the following symptoms.

  • Taking a long time -- more than 30 to 45 minutes -- to fall asleep
    Waking up many times each night
  • Waking up early and being unable to get back to sleep
  • Waking up feeling tired, and unable to function well during the day

What Causes Insomina Among Seniors?

Short-term insomnia, lasting less than one month, may result from a medical or psychiatric condition. Or it may occur after a change in personal circumstances like losing a loved one, relocating, or being hospitalized. If insomnia lasts longer than a month, it is considered chronic, even if the original cause has been resolved.

Many factors can cause insomnia. However, the most common reason older adults wake up at night is to go to the bathroom. Prostate enlargement in men and continence problems in women are often the cause. Unfortunately, waking up to go to the bathroom at night also places older adults at greater risk for falling.

Disorders that cause pain or discomfort during the night such as heartburn, arthritis, menopause, and cancer also can cause you to lose sleep. Medical conditions such as heart failure and lung disease may make it more difficult to sleep through the night, too.

Neurologic conditions such as Parkinson's disease and dementia are often a source of sleep problems, as are psychiatric conditions, such as depression. Although depression and insomnia are often related, it is currently unclear whether one causes the other.

Many older people also have habits that make it more difficult to get a good night's sleep. They may nap more frequently during the day or may not exercise as much. Spending less time outdoors can reduce their exposure to sunlight and upset their circadian biologic clock and their sleep cycle. Drinking more alcohol or caffeine can keep them from falling asleep or staying asleep.

Also, as people age, their sleeping and waking patterns tend to change. Older adults usually become sleepier earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. If they don't adjust their bedtimes to these changes, they may have difficulty falling and staying asleep.

Lastly, many older adults take a variety of different medications that may negatively affect their sleep. Many medications have side effects that can cause sleepiness or affect daytime functioning.

There are a number of therapies available to help your loved one fall asleep and stay asleep. Try limiting excessive noise and/or light in the sleep environment. Or, limit the time spent in bed while not sleeping, and use bright lights to help with circadian rhythm problems. Circadian rhythm is our 24-hour internal body clock that is affected by sunlight.

Relaxation techniques also may be helpful in reducing physical and emotional tensions that can interfere with sleep. There are also cognitive therapies aimed at changing attitudes and concerns people may have about insomnia and not being able to sleep well.

Some specialists believe medications also can be useful early in treatment, and if necessary, your loved one can use them from time to time if you have trouble falling asleep.


The National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of the 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institute of Health (NIH) leads a broad scientific effort to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life.

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2 Comments

My mother is 88 almost 89 years old and has sleep apnea and she's not been sleeping well for a couple years.It's effected her short term and long term memory very badly,to the point that she will get up to do something and within seconds forget what she got up to do.Then she gets frustrated and will yell or pound her fist or both and yell "i can't think"!! It upsets her badly ,as she knows her memory is very bad and can't do anything about it.The doctors claim that she does not have dementia or ahlzeimers ,that she has only the sleep apnea.. and i agree. She doesn't ever drift in to la la land or into euphoria of any kind.She has her wits about her at all times and it's just the memory that seems nearly at point zilch now days.She has someone taking care of her finances and business dealings but she still causes herself problems by not writing things down when people talk to her.So she's nearly caused herself and me as well,some major problems in both the recent and distant past.Details of important received phone calls are forgotten in a half hour or less.Doctor's detailed instructions are forgotten ..I wish i could do more for her but i'm diagnosed bipolar with chronic anxieties and have a sleep disorder on top of that.Any stress in my life renders me unable to sleep.,My mother doesn't want 'nor need to live in assisted living communities as she is active and those communities limit their residents to being in their apartments by a certain time at night as well as limiting visitors to certain hours.My mother is active and often times she likes to be out and about as late as 11 or 11:30pm..She's often times awake until 1 and 2am either visiting with me or watching tv.She tried assisted living and hated it/They would wake all residents every day at 7am.Also all the residents there were in bed by 9 or 10pm every night,Some as early as 8pm.The residents were in worse condition than my mother.My mother does her own shopping and does the thrift stores ,etc..She's probably as active as any woman in her 60's.In fact she recently had a complete physical and the doctor was surprised and pleased that she's in such great shape for being 88./She has the energy and physical health of a much younger woman.I just don't know what to do about her memory problem.It's getting to be a major stumbling block in both of our lives.My mother used to supPort me emotionally as well as somewhat financially.Now she can do neither.Her memory is bad enough that she can't reminisce and share memories about my childhood in my teen and preteen eras,but she can remember quite well her and my father's early days of dating .She even remembers clearly,her own childhood and growing up /why she doesn't remember my childhood clearly, i don't understand/.It's depressing to me of course but i have no option but to accept it.Is there anything i can do to improve her memory on a daily basis? Can i somehow do something to improve her long term memory as well?The doctors are not helping. She claims they say it's a combination of her age and sleep apnea.They say no more than that i guess or else she's forgetting what they tell her before she gets home.She tells me that they claim there's nothing she (or they)can do.She wears memory patches of some kind.Small brown,round patches that i guess release a chemical that is supposed to improve her memory.She gets them from the doctor.If they're helping it sure is minimal.Thanks for any advice you can give
I have read & heard that with older folks, someone should go with them to the doctor to help relate problems to doctor and listen to his comments and even take notes to refer to later. I'm almost 69 and almost daily, I go to my detached garage to get something and in those few seconds it took to get there, I've forgotten what I wanted to get. When my mother was going through that, my sister was living with her and I think she was impatient with her. I wish I could have been there to help, but I was working. Everyone needs to remember that will likely be us someday and try to be helpful and compassionate. You only get one mom. Good luck to you.