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Based on what you know about sleep patterns and stages, how would you explain to your mother why she doesn't feel rested?

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There is a difference between rested and FATIGUE. Fatigue is when you feel tired, for no reason. (Plenty of sleep, not much exertion.)
Fatigue is when your arms and legs feel like cement......when it hurts and is exhausting, just to wash your hair, or carry a dish to the sink.
Fatigue is a big sign of depression, and many other ailments. I would take her to her Dr. and see if it can be explained AND fixed.
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I was reading through these posts and noticed that a lot of people had excellent advice on sleep, but I think your main question was how to explain these things to your mom.

Unfortunately, if your mom has dementia like my mom does, you probably can't explain it to her. The only thing that I've actually found helpful is to give her short simple answers and know that you will need to have the patience to keep repeating those answers. My mom seems able to reason and accept my answers, but she won't remember asking the question and getting an answer five minutes later. As sonswife said, explaining might be futile.
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Blannie, you are exactly correct, if you don't get into REM sleep you will not dream. REM sleep is the most restful and restorative sleep. Lots of things can keep you from REM sleep, Sleep Apnea is only one of them. Looking at the medications is also a great idea.
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I would also look at the medicines she's taking and see if some of them cause insomnia. My mom is on several medications that have insomnia as a side effect. She goes through phases where she's not sleeping well (waking up too early) and complaining, then it will stop for a while, then start again. I've tried everything to help her but now I know it's her medicines and those can't be changed. She also naps (even thought she says she doesn't). I called her last night at 9:20 PM and she was asleep, even though she wasn't in bed. So I think she gets a lot more sleep than she thinks she gets. My mom also says she doesn't dream, which may or may not be true. If you don't dream, you don't get good REM sleep, I think. There are some natural things out there that supposedly help with sleep (tart cherry juice and melatonin for example) but research them before you try them. My mom couldn't take melatonin because she takes warfarin, a blood thinner. I agree with Sonswife that educating yourself on sleep patterns and apnea is a good thing to do.
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I saw that you responded to my middle of the night post with a 3 a.m. post. So you may not feel fully rested this morning. Disrupted sleep isn't a problem if it is occasional. Is your mother complaining about not feeling rested daily or several days per week? Does your she act sleep deprived?

Before explaining anything to your mother I'd suggest becoming familiar with information about Sleep Apnea. I like Mayo's website for patient information. www.mayoclinic.com Search Sleep Apnea and see if the symptoms fit your mother's situation. If the symptoms don't fit, don't bother her with the information. The site also has information on insomnia so searching Sleep could give your broader information beyond your specific search for Sleep Apnea. I'd also suggest taking her to her doctor if her sleep problems are disrupting her life or both your lives.

Does your mother have dementia? That would factor into how you frame the information when presenting it to her. If the dementia is advanced explaining might be futile.
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How would I explain to my mother?
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Have you observed her sleep? Does she snore and have brief periods of not breathing? If she does, I'd suspect sleep apnea. Sleep is disrupted and poor quality. You don't feel rested in the morning. I had a sleep study (doctor needs to order it) and was diagnosed. In addition to not feeling rested, I had terrible frontal headaches when I woke up. My sleep apnea is treated with CPAP and generally I sleep very well. I'm chuckling to myself as it is 1:00, I woke up and am at my computer.

Another thought is day time napping - she might be wrecking her night's sleep by napping in the daytime. Google Sleep Hygiene, you'll find some great tips.
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