Sleep disorders in old age – causes & treatment

The sleep behavior of humans changes continuously in the course of life. While babies overslept most of the day , their need for sleep decreases in adulthood. Around 6 to 8 hours of sleep are considered comfortable for most people.

Not all individuals can meet this need for sleep. You have difficulty sleeping and wake up feeling tired in the morning. The fatigue runs through the whole day and not only affects the performance. Diseases, for example of the cardiovascular system, are also the result.

The number of those suffering from sleep disorders is particularly high at an advanced age. It is estimated that almost every second person is affected from the age of 65. In society, however, this topic is rarely in focus. Because pensioners actually have all the time in the world and no longer have to surrender to the pressure of the world of work.

Nevertheless, sleep disorders in old age must be brought more into focus. Because they also alleviate the quality of life of the elderly and signs of old age appear earlier.

Older people have a completely different daily routine than they do when they are at work. You can actually follow your internal clock , but this seems to be associated with more and more problems. The following reasons are specifically aimed at sleep disorders in old age.


The phases of sleep significantly influence how restful the night is. A significant part of the regeneration takes place during the deep sleep phase.

In old age, the picture emerges that the sleep phases are shorter. It seems to be a natural process as you get older that the deep sleep phase is less long . As a result, there is a higher level of tiredness in the morning and those affected hardly feel rested.


However, there are also external factors that contribute to a shortening of deep sleep. The sleep of the elderly turns out to be less deep. They are more sensitive to disturbances. You are more likely to perceive light or noise and wake up as a result. Once awake, it is difficult to get back to sleep. In the case of unfavorable sleep conditions, sleep disorders are inevitable.


Getting enough exercise and mental activity is important for everyone in order to better fall asleep at night . Physical activity leads to tiredness in the evening, which promotes falling asleep.

Older people, especially those who live in care facilities, often do not have sufficient physical activity. They show little initiative and usually spend the time in their own room.

Without activity, the body does not feel tired. It is difficult to fall asleep and sleep disorders occur in old age .


The sleep disorders in old age create a certain vicious circle . A daytime sleepiness occurs that causes older people likely to have a nap perform. This may help to lower sleep pressure, but as a result it is hardly possible to fall asleep at a regular time in the evening. The day-night rhythm gets mixed up , so that sleep suffers.

It is better if fixed sleeping times are adhered to and no afternoon nap is taken. Then the pathological changes in sleep are less dramatic.


Various diseases are in the foreground in older people and have a negative impact on sleep . The diseases include:

Anxiety disorders
Multiple Sclerosis

The effects of these diseases can be felt on both a psychological and physical level. The body moves uncontrollably during sleep or the mind is unable to find the necessary rest.

Difficulty sleeping through the night in connection with the medication is also possible. The medication could lead to increased tiredness, but this does not result in a better quality of sleep, but in a lack of drive during the day.


As you get older, sleep disorders become more likely. However, the characteristics are similar to the general forms.


Affected people find it difficult to fall asleep. You lie in bed for several hours per night and although you are tired, you cannot fall asleep. The pressure of suffering increases and stress arises. This makes it even more difficult to fall asleep and the next morning you feel more tired.

Once asleep, it could happen that those affected wake up again quickly. Be it because the nocturnal urge to urinate forces you to go to the toilet or other disturbances occur.

Waking up at night is completely normal. As a rule, however, this is not noticed and sleep is not disturbed by it. With increasing age , these wake-up phases become more intense and it is hardly possible to fall asleep.


It is not just a short sleep that makes those affected feel tired and drained. It is also possible that older people sleep too long . Anyone who sleeps more than 10 hours and still does not feel recovered also suffers from insomnia.

So-called hypersomnia is an indication that there is no restful sleep at night. This could be connected with external disruptive factors. Respiratory diseases are often responsible for the high need for sleep. Difficulty breathing during the night reduces the uptake of oxygen, so that the body suffers from the deficiency. The regeneration is disturbed and despite the longer sleep, there is significant tiredness.


Further manifestations of the sleep disorders are summarized within the parasomnias . These include:

Grinding teeth
Speak in your sleep
Calf cramps

A large number of disorders of sleep behavior are listed under the parasomnias. It is therefore important to consider the exact severity of existing sleep disorders and to address them in the treatment. Both physical and mental causes can be responsible for these disorders.


In the event of persistent sleep disorders, the doctor must be consulted urgently Under no circumstances should the ailment be ignored and dismissed with the fact that sleep disorders simply occur in old age. No person simply has to accept pathological changes in sleep. As a result, heart and lung diseases can occur, which impair the quality of life and lead to severe suffering.

It is possible to treat sleep disorders with various therapeutic approaches. Under no circumstances should medication be taken lightly. These may make it easier to fall asleep, but the quality of sleep decreases and they do not correct the cause of the sleep disorders.


As with all sleep disorders, sleep hygiene is an important point in old age in order to promote sleep. This means that fixed sleeping and waking times are adhered to. Those affected should avoid taking a nap , as it upsets the internal clock.

The bedroom is kept as quiet as possible and encourages relaxation. If possible, there is a demarcation from the rest of the living space. The bedroom is only used at night, so that body and mind can only associate the bed with a relaxed sleep.

Limit the use of electronic screens before going to bed Instead of using the television to help you fall asleep, a quiet book is much more beneficial.


At an advanced age it is important that sufficient exercise is integrated into everyday life. A daily walk is the minimum here. Exercising outdoors not only promotes mobility. The solar radiation helps the body to orientate itself and tiredness is overcome. With the help of the walk, a specific daily rhythm is maintained so that it is easier to sleep in the evening.


Especially in the winter months it could happen that those affected do not get enough light. The natural sunlight is an important clock and some patients suffer in the dark months under a constant fatigue . The winter depression should also not be underestimated in this context.

For this reason, light therapy is recommended during this time . A bright daylight lamp is used for this, which has a similar characteristic to sunlight. In this way, the body is pretended to be exposed to natural light. The sleep hormone melatonin is less produced and a higher state of wakefulness is achieved. The light therapy achieves a higher energy level and those affected feel much more active.


Restricting sleep is a good way to achieve a complete reorientation of the sleep rhythm . This is mainly used for problems falling asleep , in which those affected lie awake in bed for several hours.

With sleep restriction, the duration of sleep is deliberately restricted. As a result of the sleep deprivation that is brought about, greater fatigue occurs in the evening and it is easier to fall asleep. The duration of sleep is increased step by step until it reaches a normal level.


Changes in sleep occur throughout life. The need for sleep decreases with age, but an increasing proportion of older people suffer from sleep disorders. They take a long time to fall asleep or wake up easily.

The sleep disorder in old age should not be underestimated. The sleep problems must be taken seriously and treated. Affected people should be aware of a healthy and active lifestyle. The sleeping environment must also be adapted to your own needs.

If the sleep behavior does not improve, the doctor is the right contact. This will provide further advice on how to sleep more healthily.

Jamie Clark

Hello, I’m Jamie Clark, 32 years old, and I have been living in the USA for a few years.
Since I was a child, I have suffered from a house dust allergy, severely affecting me. I felt the effects both while exercising and while sleeping. Constant sneezing after getting up and difficult breathing were the consequences. The allergy has also developed into asthma, which is still a sporting restriction today.

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