The Risks of Sleep Deprivation in the Elderly & Their Caregivers

Alarm ClockOlder adults need about the same amount of sleep as people in their 20s, but many elderly people get much less sleep than they need. Common causes of insomnia or trouble sleeping can include health issues such as the pain from arthritis, some medications, and the need for frequent urination. Sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome are also more likely in seniors.

A cause we don’t often hear about is that as we age, our body’s internal clock adjusts to earlier sleep and wakeup times. If seniors stay up late, they are likely to wake up at their usual early hour, thus experiencing the side-effects of a sleep-deprived day.

While sleep requirements vary slightly for each person, most healthy adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night. How you feel in the morning is a better indication of what you need. Frequently waking up not feeling rested or feeling tired and wanting to sleep during the day are the best signs that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Disturbed sleep and waking up tired are not part of normal aging. It’s important to get to the root cause of sleepless nights because not getting enough sleep carries with it several important health risks and concerns.

Sleep deprivation can:

  • Take a toll on nearly every part of your life, no matter how old or young you are.
  • Be as dangerous for drivers as alcohol consumption, adding to the risks affecting a senior’s ability to be a safe driver.
  • Make falls and other accidents more likely.
  • Increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other health issues.
  • Cause depression, attention, and memory problems.
  • Increase the risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and potentially speed their progression.

Research suggests that poor sleep can cause dementia and dementia can cause poor sleep. A long-term Harvard Medical School study followed 2,800 individuals aged 65 and older. Researchers found that individuals who slept under five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those who slept six to eight hours per night. Sleep problems are also common in people with dementia. They spend less time in the later stages of sleep and more time in the earlier stages. This can get worse as dementia progresses.

Sleep disorders can affect how much and how well you sleep. These can be caused by poor habits that keep you awake or medical problems that disrupt your sleep cycle.

  • Poor habits such as: late evening caffeine or alcohol or eating, bringing phones or tablets to bed, not going to bed at the same time every night, staying up late, falling asleep with the TV on.
  • Medical problems like: depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, sleep apnea, medication side effects, chronic pain, thyroid problems.

Getting enough sleep is essential for family caregivers to prevent caregiver burnout. If you negatively impact your own health by not getting enough sleep, you’ll be much less able to give your loved one the care they need. These are just some of the risks you face:

  1. Increased stress levels: If you are stressed, your loved one will feel it and experience stress reactions harmful to their health.
  2. Lapses in memory: Sleep plays an essential role in processing and retaining new information that could be critical to your loved one’s care.
  3. Poor physical health: Consistent lack of sleep can lower your resistance to disease and increase your risk of weight gain, stroke, heart attack and Type II diabetes, requiring care for you.
  4. Decreased mental health: Depression, anxiety, lack of patience, feeling hopeless and helpless, fear of loss and death are just some of the risks to your mental health caused by lack of sleep.
  5. Negative impact on your ability to provide care: Caregivers must prioritize their own health to provide the best possible care for their loved ones.

If your attempts to resolve your sleep problems or the sleep problems of the loved one you’re caring for aren’t working, it’s time to get help. Make an appointment with a doctor and be prepared with a record of the things that might be making either of you unable to get a good night’s sleep.

It may be that you need some respite care, or some outside help with your many caregiving tasks. Contact Dakota Home Care to schedule a free, in-home consultation that considers how your needs can be met by the services we offer. Simply complete the form here or call us at (877) 691‑0015.


Visual Guide to Sleep Disorders (

Seniors and sleep: Why seniors are often sleep deprived (

Understanding the Connection Between Sleep and Dementia – Harvard Pilgrim Health Care – HaPi Guide

Examining sleep deficiency and disturbance and their risk for incident dementia and all-cause mortality in older adults across 5 years in the United States | Aging (

Sleep and Aging: Sleep Tips for Older Adults –

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