What Causes Excessive Sleepiness in Elderly People

Sleep disorders in old age - why the disease is underestimated and what can help those affected

The problem: sleep disorders are often mistakenly taken for granted. But they can have serious effects on the health and quality of life of patients. The scientists are now offering a basic course in which they show nurses and therapists what causes and consequences sleep disorders have and what measures can provide relief.

Around every third adult in Germany has moderate to severe sleep disorders. It is estimated that around half of people over the age of 60 suffer from it. Nursing homes in particular have to adjust to the disease more and more. Despite the obvious problems, this topic has received little attention so far, both in care facilities and in science. The nursing staff is still too unfamiliar with sleep disorders. This was found out by a group of researchers from the Berlin research association "Autonomy in spite of multimorbidity in old age" (AMA), who examined sleep disorders in elderly people in nursing homes and supported them by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the "Health in old age" funding is supported. In extensive surveys, the researchers found that sleep disorders are often taken as natural. There is also a lack of basic knowledge about treatment options and the negative consequences of untreated sleep disorders.

As soon as they become permanent, insomnia is a serious illness, especially in people with chronic illnesses. In older people, they are usually just one of many other diseases such as depression or Parkinson's and are therefore often played down and neglected. However, sleep disorders aggravate these existing diseases and can accelerate the decline in physical performance. The mobility of the elderly decreases, they are less physically active and fall more often, which can lead to further discomfort. Patients take part less often in social life with their families or other residents and thus lose their quality of life.

Too little physical and mental activity

Common causes of sleep disorders in older people are a lack of physical activity and a lack of mental activity. The results of the Berlin Insomnia project show that home residents with sleep disorders develop little initiative to organize their everyday lives. Compared to residents who do not suffer from insomnia, many of them are poor in contact and rarely able to keep themselves occupied. The nursing staff usually mistakenly interpret this as a need for rest and react incorrectly: "Older people with sleep disorders are more likely to be excluded from the activity and exercise programs than additionally asked to take part," says project manager Prof. Dr. Garms-Homolová from the Alice Salomon University in Berlin. "This creates a vicious circle that increases the sleep problems of those affected."

Problems can also arise with medication. As a rule, residents are already taking a lot of medication, but adequate treatment of sleep disorders should not be avoided. The scope of the medication can be reduced and its effect improved if natural remedies are used in parallel: “For older people, a clear separation between day and night is very important. Nursing staff should ensure sufficient darkness and rest at night to promote restful sleep. At the same time, the nights must not be too long, because this promotes the pathological sleep that is too long, known as hypersomnia, ”explains Prof. Dr. Garms-Homolová. “During the day, however, the residents should get enough light, preferably natural daylight. Activities and exercise are extremely important in order to ensure sufficient tiredness at night and to prevent sleep during the day. So the so-called non-restful sleep can be prevented. "

More detailed knowledge of sleep disorders is necessary

In response to the results of the study, the sub-project of the research group led by Prof. Dr. Garms-Homolová and Prof. Uwe Flick have now developed a basic course on sleep disorders in long-term care. The course is intended to provide nurses and therapists with basic knowledge about sleep disorders and show how they can better deal with the problems of older people in everyday life. The scientists have also compiled a list of common diagnostic methods for identifying sleep disorders, as well as an overview of home remedies that can help with sleep disorders. This means that the results of the research project can be implemented immediately in the care facilities. A book on sleep disorders that will summarize this knowledge is also being planned.

sleep disorders

Types of sleep disorders (selection)

  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking prematurely
  • Hypersomnia: excessive sleeping
  • Parasomnias: sleepwalking, nightmares, grinding teeth

Help with insomnia

  • Sleep restriction: Sleep phases during the day are restricted, the night and thus the sleeping time must not be too long.
  • Time structuring: A clear separation between day and night is necessary.
  • Mental activity and physical exercise.
  • Light therapy.

Sleep restriction: sleep phases during the day are restricted, the night and thus the sleeping time must not be too long - time structuring: a clear separation between day and night is necessary - mental activity and physical movement - light therapy.

The AMA research network

The Berlin research association “Autonomy in spite of multimorbidity in old age” (AMA) makes a lasting contribution to improving the living situation of older people with multiple illnesses, known as multimorbidity in technical terms. The scientists are researching how these people cope with their everyday lives, how they maintain their self-determination and which offers, for example in the form of exercise and employment programs, are beneficial.

Contact person:
Prof. Dr. Vjenka Garms-Homolová
Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences Berlin
Alice-Salomon-Platz 5
12627 Berlin
Tel .: 030 80-904027
Fax: 030 80-27634
Email: [email protected]