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Excessive Sleep in the Elderly

Excessive Sleep in the ElderlyAs a person gets older, they usually find that their need for sleep decreases. It is accepted as a normal part of aging. However, the elderly may find that eventually they need more sleep than they did earlier in adulthood. Difficulties with sleeping, however, may mean that sleeping for one long period is not possible. Instead the elderly may sleep in several shorter sessions throughout the day, often giving the impression that they are sleeping excessively. Some seniors do sleep for long periods and this can occur for various reasons which may just be a normal part of aging (physiological), related to diseases (pathological) or induced by medication (iatrogenic). Sometimes it occurs for no known reasons (idiopathic).

Quantity and Quality of Sleep

Infants and children require about 10 to 14 hours of sleep per day. Teens and adults sleep for about 7 to 9 hours. After the mid thirties, a person may find that they can manage adequately on as little as 6 hours of sleep per day. However, there comes a point in the senior years where a person revert backs to sleeping for longer hours similar to childhood. It has to be ascertained whether a person is sleeping for too many hours or not, based on the quality of sleep. Some factors that need to be taken into consideration includes :

  • Period of time a person spends in bed before falling asleep.
  • Period of time spent in bed after awakening.
  • Number of times a person awakens at night for any reason.

By taking these details into consideration, it may be found that a person is not sleeping for very long hours but instead time is spent or lost by :

  • Lying in bed trying to fall asleep.
  • Resting in bed after awakening.
  • Awakening repeatedly during the night which breaks the sleep cycle and may require a period of time before one can fall asleep again.

Causes of Excessive Sleep

The elderly may find that their energy and endurance levels diminish with age. Even moderate activity can be tiring and require a period of rest, like a nap, before recovering. This is not unusual with age but can only be considered normal if it follows a period of activity. In the event that a person is sleeping excessively without activity and are not losing sleep time by one or more the factors mentioned above, then the cause should be investigated.

Contrary to popular belief, the elderly require 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day as is the case with younger adults provided that there are no repeated interruptions when asleep. Most sleeping disorders are associated with difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep. A lesser known sleeping disorder is excessive daytime sleepiness which is marked by tiredness during the day with the need to sleep or at least nap on a regular basis.

The elderly may find that their sleep breaks regularly either to urinate, when in pain, experience difficulty breathing or when, awakened by others for snoring loudly. Certain diseases or medication can also affect the sleep cycle or causes discomfort that leads a person to awaken regularly at night.

In these instances, the quality of sleep is poor and a person may require a nap during the day or spend longer hours in bed. However, at other times, certain diseases and medication may cause fatigue, sleepiness or even drowsiness. A person may complain of feeling tired or sleepy even after awaking and may therefore be sleeping excessively.

How much of sleep is excessive?

There is no definitive way to ascertain how much of sleep is excessive for an older person. Individual variations may mean that 7 hours is sufficient for one person while others need 9 to 10 hours. Rather the situation should be judged by one’s level of functioning when awake. A person who is physically active, mentally healthy and functioning in a manner that is considered the norm for others of their age can therefore be said to be sleeping sufficiently irrespective of the actual number of sleeping hours in a day.


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