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Daytime Sleeping and Cat Naps among the Elderly

Daytime Sleeping and Cat Naps among the ElderlyDaytime napping is a common practice among seniors, especially those who are retired. Sometimes it just a consequence of boredom and the lower energy levels seen with advancing age. At other times though it is linked to sleeping disorders and chronic diseases such as an underactive thyroid and diabetes mellitus. It is important to determine when daytime sleeping is problematic and take steps to treat it. For the elderly especially, changes in sleep may be a symptom of a serious underlying disorder which has either not been diagnosed as yet or is not being adequately managed.

Normal Sleeping Habits

The purpose of sleep is to help the body rest and recuperate from a period of activity. Individual sleeping habits vary. Every person needs on average 8 hours of sleep per day. Some people manage adequately on 6 to 7 hours while others function better on 9 to 10 hours per day. However, sleeping more than 10 hours a day is usually an indication of some underlying sleep disorder or other health problem. Sleep is not just about the quantity – the quality of sleep is also important. If the sleep is frequently disturbed or normal body functioning impaired while asleep, then sleep may not be restful.

Daytime napping can be helpful in providing short periods of rest. It should however not be for long hours. Napping for more than 2 hours during the course of the day can affect a good night’s sleep which is the more important period for rest and recuperation. Daytime napping can be a problem if it :

  • Affects the ability to sleep for at least 6 or more hours at night.
  • Is necessary to the point that a person cannot function without it.
  • Missing a nap causes a person to doze off at inappropriate times or settings during the day.

Reasons for Daytime Sleeping

Some people choose to nap during the day in order to have more energy to continue with daily tasks thereafter. These naps are often referred to as cat naps or power naps when it is for very short periods typically less than an hour. It is essentially a ‘recharging’ period in these cases but is not a necessity. Other people need to nap or cannot function at all or doze off to sleep while conducting daily tasks, even when driving. The latter is a problem and can be dangerous. There are two main conditions that leads to this type of abnormal sleep behaviour – sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea is a condition where there is an impairment of air flow in and out of the lungs with periods where a person stops breathing altogether. It greatly affects the oxygen levels in the blood and means that the organs and tissues go for short periods without oxygen. It is a condition largely associated with obesity and snoring. Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is a sleep disorder where a person feels very sleeping throughout the day despite having a full night’s sleep. The exact cause of excessive daytime sleepiness is not always known but it can be linked to certain diseases or even medication. Without sleep, a person with EDS may be drowsy.

Daytime sleeping may be linked to a number of other conditions and should therefore be considered as a symptom of these diseases. It can also be linked to side effects of certain medication.There are also reasons where daytime sleeping is not related to any disease. In these cases it may occur due to :

  • Boredom
  • Poor eating habits
  • Alcohol overuse
  • Misuse of sleeping tablets
  • Obesity
  • Lower energy levels that are age-related and not disease-related

It is important for the elderly to consult with a health care professional to conclusively identify whether daytime sleeping is pathological (due to a disease) or not. A cat nap while relaxing on the patio or in front of the television is common and not necessarily a problem. In fact, it is an accepted norm to see a senior doze off for short periods during the day once retired. However, misconceptions about a person’s sleeping habits with age should not detract from the fact that sleepiness during the day may be a sign of some problem.


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