Insomnia in Elderly Patients: How To Care For Loved Ones Struggling With Insomnia

October 21, 2020


On average, around 13.7% of aging individuals suffer from insomnia in Singapore. Since this disorder causes sleep deprivation and impairs normal functioning, elderly people encounter difficulties in performing daily tasks and are more prone to errors. Additionally, their health may worsen due to a compromised immune system from sleep loss.

In this guide, we discuss how insomnia affects the health of elderly people and the best care options available for treating this disorder. Keep reading to learn more about how to assess, treat, and care for elderly patients struggling with insomnia.

How Insomnia Affects The Body

Insomnia is a sleeping disorder characterised by difficulty in falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep throughout the night. It may also include waking up after only a few hours of rest and being unable to fall asleep again. This type of restlessness depletes one’s energy levels over time and induces emotional distress among individuals.

Sleep allows the body to regulate its hormones, repair damaged cells or tissues, and sustain good health by increasing immunity. Since insomnia causes sleep deprivation, the body is unable to perform its maintenance functions which induce symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Poor concentration
  • Impairment in performance of daily tasks
  • Mood swings

Causes Of Insomnia In Elderly Patients

As individuals age, they tend to experience more frequent sleep disturbances and lower quality of sleep. Generally, this is due to the body spending fewer hours in deep sleep and producing less melatonin – the hormone responsible for eliciting sleepiness. Elderly patients also tend to have greater sensitivity to environmental factors like noise, stress, or light exposure which affects their ability to sleep properly at night.

Alternatively, insomnia could be a symptom of an underlying health issue that requires medical attention. An overactive bladder, Alzheimer’s disease, and pulmonary disease are among the possible medical conditions that cause insomnia in elderly patients. It’s important to consult a doctor to determine whether insomnia is the primary problem or a symptom of another disease that should be treated.

Types of Insomnia

Since insomnia affects individuals differently, medical professionals usually categorize this sleeping disorder into three main types: acute, chronic, and transient. Observing the length of time that a patient has had sleeping problems typically determines their type of insomnia and its corresponding treatment/s.

Transient Insomnia

This type of insomnia isn’t usually a cause for concern since it only lasts 1-3 nights. Transient insomnia may result from particular events or situations that induce some brief feelings of anxiety or stress in patients. However, in most cases, sleeping patterns normalise on their own with little to no intervention.  

Acute Insomnia

Similar to transient insomnia, acute insomnia is characterised as short-term but may last around 1-2 months. This is usually caused by more physically or emotionally taxing external stressors like adjusting to a new environment, taking a new medication, or receiving disconcerting news which contributes to poor sleep quality.

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia is the most severe type since it can affect sleep for more than 3 months. This is highly problematic because long-term sleep deprivation is linked to a higher risk of suffering from a heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and depression. Aging patients with existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to poorer health outcomes which makes it crucial to treat chronic insomnia immediately. 

Assessing The Severity Of Insomnia

Keeping track of an elderly loved one’s sleeping patterns is a simple method in assessing their type of insomnia. It’s important to ask aging patients what keeps them up, how long they’ve been struggling with sleeping, and how many hours of sleep they typically get every night.

Another helpful strategy is to examine their routines and lifestyle habits to determine possible contributors to insomnia. Factors like prolonged daytime naps, a sedentary lifestyle, inadequate sunlight exposure, and a lack of social interactions may be the cause of an elderly patient’s sleeping problems.

Common Treatments For Insomnia

While insomnia is often difficult to deal with, it can be treated and even cured with a few adjustments in routine or lifestyle. To help you or an elderly loved one who’s struggling with insomnia, you may consider the following treatment options:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy – This treatment is recommended for individuals who find it difficult to fall asleep due to excessive worrying. Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps patients identify the cause of their repetitive, negative thinking patterns for greater relaxation and improved sleep-onset. 
  • Light therapy – This involves adjusting the patient’s circadian rhythm by increasing their sun exposure or having them sit in front of a bright, artificial light every morning. Typically, this is recommended for patients with difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for longer periods.
  • Melatonin supplements – Since elderly patients naturally produce less melatonin, this dietary supplement may assist in inducing sleepiness by restoring melatonin levels within normal ranges.
  • Mindfulness meditation – Growing research suggests that meditation may help treat insomnia by reducing stress and negative thoughts that typically keep patients awake. Additionally, it promotes psychological well-being and increases relaxation among individuals suffering from insomnia.
  • Physical exercise – Studies show that engaging in aerobic exercise or activities that encourage movement is effective in improving mood and overall sleep quality among aging individuals.
  • Prescribed medication – Generally, medication for insomnia is prescribed after a series of alternative treatments have failed to improve sleeping conditions. This is often seen as a last resort since it may produce dependence on the medication among patients. 

Why Restful Sleep Is Essential For Elderly Patients

Although getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night remains essential across all ages, the effects of sleep deprivation may be more damaging to an aging patient’s health. According to studies, sleep deprivation is linked to weakened immunity, reduced strength, and increased pain sensitivity.

Addressing insomnia through treatment leads to deeper and longer hours of sleep which promotes cognitive functioning, daytime alertness, and lowers overall medical risks. Additionally, restful sleep benefits elderly patients greatly by restoring balanced energy levels and hormonal regulation to improve their mood.

How Ninkatec Can Help Elderly Patients With Insomnia

As one of Singapore’s leading healthcare providers, Ninkatec offers a range of cost-effective medical services for elderly individuals. At the convenience and comfort of their homes, clients receive health assistance from our experienced staff of medical professionals whenever necessary. 

Since insomnia has physiological and psychological effects, elderly patients may experience increased feelings of distress which could further harm their health. By scheduling an appointment with Ninkatec, we guarantee that clients receive the support that they need with one of our three quality home care plans:

  • Right At Home – standard medical care for elderly patients who require minimal living assistance and health support.
  • Close Connect – daily medical support for elderly patients with more severe medical conditions.
  • Virtual Care – remote monitoring and 24/7 virtual assistance for elderly patients.

Seek Support From Ninkatec

While it’s common for individuals to experience lower sleep quality as they age, it’s important to address insomnia immediately to prevent further risks to an elderly patient’s health condition. With the support of our staff at Ninkatec, aging individuals receive the essential help they need to treat sleep disturbances.


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