Dangers of Abnormal Sleeping in Elderly People

Dangers of Abnormal Sleeping in Elderly People

time icon 5 min read update icon Sept. 16, 2019


If a senior shows signs of abnormal sleeping patterns, proper countermeasures should be taken to minimize complications. Abnormal sleep problems may include: sleep apnea, snoring, restless leg syndrome and insomnia. Sufficient sleep is necessary to achieve optimal health, and can directly influence mood, hormone levels, and weight.


As seniors age, they may begin to sleep more lightly. They may be easily roused in the night due to aches and pains, and may have difficulties falling asleep again. Rest that is lost during the night may be compensated for with a mid-day nap. Napping or dozing is considered part of normal senior sleeping and is perfectly acceptable with aging. 

Concern begins when sleeping routines are nonexistent and napping throughout the day interferes with common daily activities such as eating and taking medications. Lack of sleep may lead to dehydration and severe health problems. Seniors who live alone are at a higher risk of falling victim to sleep disorientation.

Possible Abnormal Sleeping Causes and Solutions

1. Medication

The average senior takes several medications each day. All medications have possible side effects, and it should be expected that they may have adverse interactions. In addition to possible adverse interactions, seniors metabolize medications differently, and some may be more susceptible to adverse effects such as dizziness and drowsiness. 

Over-the-counter medications and prescription medications for depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and allergies can all cause excessive sleepiness. If a senior is on one of these medications, they should discuss alternative medication options or the possible side effects of the drugs with their physician. Dosages may be reduced or the medications may be discontinued completely. 

Other times, a physician may alter the times that the medication should be taken, as a means of improving alertness during the day.

2. Boredom

Seniors who suffer with chronic health ailments and age-related issues may find that they have developed an inability to do the things they once enjoyed. When activities and entertainment options become limited, it can have a negative impact on a senior’s quality of life. Poor eyesight may cause them challenges when attempting to read, complete puzzles or participate in other hobbies. In these instances, seniors may not be tired or clinically depressed, however, fatigue will develop because they are incredibly bored. As a result, they may fall into a routine of sleeping most of the day. 

Volunteering is one great option for seniors to combat boredom. Studies have shown that volunteering can serve as an effective way of battling loneliness and feelings of irrelevancy. Volunteering has proved to have a positive influence on seniors, similar to the results of exercising and not smoking. Seniors should maintain social engagement in their lives to provide themselves with a greater sense of purpose and motivation, thus enabling them to behave in ways that are better for their health.

3. Depression

Depression is in no way a typical part of aging. The basic signs of depression are usually easy to identify, but in older adults, the signs and symptoms may be difficult to recognize. If a senior is showing signs of excessive sleeping and fatigue, this may indicate that they are suffering from depression or another mental health disorder. 

If this is the case, communication should be initiated as to how they are feeling, and an appointment with their physician should be scheduled. If a senior is already on an antidepressant medication, it should be noted that finding the correct balance of medication usually takes time, with the help of trial and error. 

4. Medical conditions

Seniors with dementia may experience a wide array of sleep issues, especially in the advanced stages of the disease. Issues with rhythms and temporal awareness may cause it to be difficult for dementia patients to sleep throughout the night, preventing a normal sleep schedule. Odd sleep patterns may be frustrating for caregivers, and can also intensify the symptoms of dementia. 

Recommending sleeping pills to seniors is not advisable. The best techniques for promoting and encouraging good sleep habits, include having a variety of engaging activities during the day, arranging brief naps as needed, and attempting to adhere to a sleep schedule. A solid sleep routine can prove to be very helpful in keeping seniors oriented, as well as helping to manage the symptoms and behaviors of dementia. If a senior is having difficulty getting enough sleep, a physician may be able to provide some resources.


In some cases, abnormal sleep patterns can indicate serious medical concerns. A physician should be contacted to determine if a specific treatment should be altered, removed or added. When a senior spends excessive amounts of time sleeping, means should be taken to ensure that proper nutrition, medications and personal care are received. Otherwise, further complications such as malnutrition, dehydration and bed ulcers may occur. 

The dangers and solutions of abnormal sleep patterns may not apply to every senior, therefore seniors should be sure to communicate with their physicians to discuss a resolution specific to their needs.  

T. Mashae Pearson - Senior Advisor

Shae is senior researcher with Grandfolk® providing in-depth product and service reviews to empower senior buying decisions.