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Geriatric Sleep Disorder - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Geriatric Sleep Disorder - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Geriatric sleep disorder is a sleeping disturbance in elders. Read this article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Lochana .k

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Waseem Ahmed. N

Published At March 5, 2022
Reviewed AtMarch 13, 2023


Geriatric sleep disorder is a problem that causes sleep disturbances in older people. The patient will have difficulty sleeping for the required time. There will be altered sleeping patterns and the quality of sleep will also be reduced. Normally, sleep should last for seven to eight hours. In some patients, there would be difficulties in sleeping for eight hours. It might be due to age factors or underlying health conditions. Some of the psychotherapy treatments are helpful. Medications are also beneficial.

What Are the Causes of Geriatric Sleep Disorder?

The main reason for a geriatric sleep disorder is an underlying primary sleep disorder condition. A primary sleep disorder will have the following features:

  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): It is a condition in which there is an uncontrolled need to move the legs during sleep. It might include depression in some patients. There is no proper treatment for this condition. The complication is higher if it is associated with other health issues.

  • Sleep Apnea: It is a condition in which there is difficulty in breathing during an episode of sleep. It is due to the issues relating to the muscles of breathing. Some medications can also cause sleep apnea. Drugs like Morphine and Oxycodone can also cause sleep apnea. Patients who are affected with sleep apnea, also have altered patterns of speech and change in voice. The patient can get better with proper treatment.

  • Insomnia: Patients who are affected with insomnia are known to have difficulties in falling asleep. Nearly ten percent of the people are affected by insomnia. If it is known to occur for more than three months, the patient might get affected by major depressive disorder. Menopause can also be the cause of insomnia. With proper medications and psychological counseling, the patient will recover soon.

  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: In periodic limb movement disorder, the patient will experience twitching and jerking of the arms and legs. It is known to happen in sleep. It might last for a few seconds or hours. Drugs like antidepressants and anticonvulsants are known to cause periodic limb movement disorder. Iron deficiency anemia can also cause this condition. Treating the underlying cause will help the patient to recover.

  • REM Behavior Disorder: In REM behavior disorder, the patients will try to act on what happens in their dreams. It might also sound ridiculous to their bed partner or family members. The patient might kick, punch, shout, and talk during their sleep. It is necessary to stay cautious around these patients. This condition is harmful not only for the patient but also for their family members and friends. It is a serious condition and needs medical help as soon as possible.

  • Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders: A biological clock is seen in the normal physiological functioning of human beings. If this clock gets disturbed, there will be a disturbance in the sleep-wake cycle. This will result in a circadian rhythm disorder. The complications include loss of concentration and insomnia. There are few tips for home care that can be followed to bring your circadian rhythm to normal levels.

Some medications can also cause geriatric sleep disorder. They are:

  • Diuretics: It is used by patients who have glaucoma and high blood pressure.

  • Corticosteroids Like Prednisone: It is used by patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Antidepressants.

  • Drugs Like Levodopa: It is used by patients with Parkinson’s disease.

  • Anticholinergics: It is used by patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • Adrenergic Drugs: It is used by patients who are having asthma attacks.

The other common causes are:

What Are the Medical Conditions Associated With a Geriatric Sleep Disorder?

Geriatric sleep disorder is known to be associated with the following medical conditions:

What Are the Problems Faced by Patients With a Geriatric Sleep Disorder?

The patient will have generalized fatigue and they will have dizziness or sleepiness during day time. Patients with geriatric sleep disorder will wake up early at midnight. The main reason for sleeplessness in older patients could be depression and psychiatric illness. People who are lonely are known to have geriatric sleep disorders rather than people who live with their family members. Older people who have lost their partners are known to have difficulties in sleeping patterns as they might feel insecure most of the time.

How Is Geriatric Sleep Disorder Diagnosed?

A proper family history would be required for planning treatment. A precise sleep study would be required to analyze the sleeping patterns of the individual. This will require sleep specialists to gain exact confirmatory diagnosis. The following patterns will be recorded:

  • Brain activity.

  • Breathing patterns.

  • Snoring.

  • Heart rate.

  • Pulse.

  • Movements of the body.

The oxygen saturation level in the blood is also calculated. If you are suspected to have primary sleep disorder, then you will be requested for a polysomnogram.

What Are the Treatment Options?

The first and the foremost level of treatment is aimed at giving behavioral therapy. The patient will be given counseling for relieving any depressive events as it might disrupt the sleep. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a therapeutic technique that can be used to help patients with sleep disorders.

Lifestyle Changes:

The patient will be asked to avoid sleeping during day time. Minimal exercise will also be advised for the patient. Practicing meditation before sleep is the best way to have a sound sleeping habit. The patient should avoid taking caffeine before going to bed. Avoiding medications is a good idea because the patients are already older and they would be consuming medications for other health issues. Taking sedatives might interact with the medicines they are already having regularly. A modification in the lifestyle will provide positive results. The following are the few tips that can be followed to fall asleep:

  • Cultivate the habit of reading books before sleep.

  • Avoid bright lights in your bedroom as it might prevent sleep.

  • Maintain a pleasant fragrance in your bedroom as it can soothe your body and produce relaxed feelings.

  • Prefer to sleep with your loved ones so that you can feel secure.

  • Drinking a glass of milk will also stimulate sleep in individuals.

  • Avoid eating heavy meals two hours before going to bed.

  • Snacking during midnight will interrupt your sleep.

You can consult the doctors at icliniq.com.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Commonly Seen Sleep Disorders in Older People?

Older people usually have sleep problems, which can vary in severity. These problems are often unrecognizable and not easy to treat. Some common sleep problems in older people include sleep apnea (SAS), restless legs syndrome (RLS), and rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder.


What Can Help Elderly People to Sleep Better?

Some of the following things can help older people with sleep problems which include -
- Sleeping in the dark and quiet room.
- Keeping the room temperature between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit can also be beneficial.
- Take a warm bath before bed.
- Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises.
- Listening to calming music.


What Treatment Is Considered Best for Sleeping Disorders?

Sleeping disorders can be treated by following some of the following steps which include -
- Good sleeping habits and other lifestyle changes.
- CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device for sleep apnea.
- Medicines such as sleeping pills, which a doctor prescribes.
- Relaxing techniques to reduce anxiety.


How Many Hours of Sleep Are Required for Different Age Groups?

The sleep hours for different types of age groups include -
- Newborn (0 to 3 months) 14 to 17 hours per 24 hours.
- Infant (4 to 12 months) 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours.
- Toddler (1 to 2 years) 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours.
- Preschool (3 to 5 years) 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours.
- School Age (6 to 12 years) 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours.
- Teen (13 to 18 years) 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours.
- Adults (18 to 60 years) 7 or more hours per night.
- 61 to 65 years, 7 to 9 hours.
- 65 years and older, 7 to 8 hours.


Are Sleep Disorders and Mental Disorders the Same?

Sleep disorders can be linked to the patient's physical and emotional condition. Moreover, sleep problems can also be linked with mental health conditions as they can be associated with mental health. In addition to that, approximately one-third of adults experience insomnia symptoms.


What Conditions Are Linked With Sleeping Disorders?

Various medical conditions can be linked with sleeping disorders, such as insomnia. Some of the medical conditions that can affect sleep or cause sleeping disorders include -
- Chronic pain.
- Asthma.
- Cancer.
- Diabetes.
- Heart conditions.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


What Are Fatal Sleep Disorders?

Sleeping disorders are usually not serious. However, sleep apnea is considered potentially life-threatening as breathing gets interrupted during sleep. Therefore, diagnosing and treating this condition as early as possible is important, as it can lead to irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke.


For How Long Can Sleep Disorders Last?

Sleep disorders are usually short-term in adults and last a few days or weeks. This usually occurs due to stress or trauma. However, in some cases, it can stay life-long and last for months or years.


What Is the Natural Remedy for Sleep Disorders in the Elderly?

Melatonin is considered one of the best cures used for sleep enhancement. It is a natural hormone in the pineal gland that helps control circadian rhythms. It can be taken as supplements in the form of medicine that can help with insomnia, and herbs like valerian root, magnesium, or lavender can also help with sleeping disorders.


How to Diagnose Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders can be diagnosed by performing a test known as polysomnography. This test records the brain waves, oxygen levels in the blood, heart, and breathing rates. Additionally, eye and leg movements are also examined during the study.


Are Sleep Disorders Treated by Neurologists?

A neurologist can help treat conditions that contribute to a sleep disorder. Therefore, a neurologist will prescribe medicines based on the condition.  According to various investigations, the most common sleeping disorder is insomnia, a prime symptom in 30 to 90 % of neurological disorders.


Can Insomnia Be Detected in Brain Scans?

Various imaging studies such as CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) detect various anomalies in the body, including the brain. However, these scans cannot directly indicate insomnia in a patient, such as MRI can offer some diagnosis of why the insomnia is there and how it is related to other neurological conditions.


How Can Sleep Be Recovered?

According to various studies, it has been found that it takes around four to five days to recover one hour of lost sleep. Therefore, to recover the lost sleep, a person must relax and sleep more hours to feel more energetic and less deprived of daily activities. However, in cases with severe deprivation, it can take up to multiple nights or weeks to completely recover. 
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Dr. Lochana .k
Dr. Lochana .k



geriatric sleep disorder
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