Sleeping patterns change as we age. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, you may wonder how it affects their sleep. A 2012 Brazilian study found that aging can negatively affect sleep, making seniors more prone to sleep problems. Seniors in nursing homes are especially affected by this.

Seniors will most likely experience sleep issues as they age, but those who sleep in nursing homes may encounter additional environmental barriers to good sleep. Nursing home residents are significantly more likely to experience sleep problems than their community-dwelling counterparts, according to a 2018 study.

Some of the common ways residents can experience sleep difficulties include changes in diet, activities, and medications. Additionally, sleep deprivation must be assessed subjectively, taking into account psychological distress, wellness, and impairment, as well as daytime fatigue and functioning, beyond objective measures such as sleep duration and onset.

Though nursing home residents face several sleep-related obstacles, there are ways to overcome them. Here are a few tips:

  1. Help them sleep with less noise

The resident and his or her roommate should use sound machines, headphones, or earplugs to reduce noise.

  1. Buy a new mattress

Hospital beds with hard mattresses can disturb your loved one’s sleep. Often bedsores in nursing homes are common among neglected elders who fail to express their pain.

You may want to consider buying your loved one a new mattress since hospital beds in nursing homes aren’t very comfortable. When buying an adjustable bed, ensure your mattress is compatible with the base.

If your loved one lives in a nursing home, check to see if a new bed or mattress is allowed. Don’t forget to ask them if they feel comfortable when you visit them.

  1. Use familiar, breathable items to increase comfort

The heat from our bodies reaches neighboring areas at night when our core body temperature drops, and residents’ nightwear, sheets, and mattresses absorb and trap it. Keeping the bedroom dark and cool may assist the body in initiating and maintaining sleep by providing light, breathable, and cooling sheets and pillows.

It may be helpful to bring sheets, pillows, blankets, and pajamas from home, so the resident feels more comfortable. When putting them in the laundry, make sure they have the resident’s name on them.

  1. Reduce the amount of daytime napping

Residents who spend more time awake tend to accumulate more sleep pressure. It is likely that residents will sleep better and longer the longer they can stay awake. An excessive amount of napping during the day can help older adults feel less sleepy at night.

It may be possible to prevent withdrawals from the bank account of sleep pressure by eliminating or keeping daytime naps brief and consistent (e.g., around the same time every day).

  1. Let them sleep only when tired

Encourage residents to go to bed only when they are sleepy. In contrast to fatigue, sleepy people fall asleep more quickly and stay out of bed less, reducing insomnia-causing conditioned arousal. Residents’ sleep health can be improved by learning to distinguish fatigue from sleepiness.

In addition, residents should only use their beds for sleeping and sex – not to watch television, read, or scroll through their phones. Once they feel sleepy again, they should get out of bed, go into another room, relax, and return to bed only when they feel sleepy again. Relaxing activities can be made pleasant by planning ahead. Practice relaxation, listen to soft music, read, or draw.

  1. Make bedtime a ritual

There is a consistent bedtime routine for each resident, which means that a certain time is set for preparing for bed, and a certain time is set for turning off the light to go to bed. It can include taking a warm bath or shower before bed, reading outside the bedroom, and reducing the amount of time spent on devices that emit blue light and disrupt sleep.

  1. Maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule

Contrary to popular belief, residents should maintain a daily wake-up time (even on weekends) and only go to bed when they are tired, not sleepy. Due to humans’ roughly 24-hour circadian rhythm, waking up at the same time every day increases the likelihood of falling asleep at the same time every night.

Consider setting an alarm clock with residents and placing it within reach but a bit less comfortable so they must “work” to turn it off and wake up when it sounds. It may also be helpful to collaborate with the care staff.

  1. Increase the amount of exercise during the day

Residents need to exercise, ideally two to three hours before going to bed. With increasing sleep deprivation, sleep pressure accumulates and dissipates as a result of the body’s desire to sleep. Exercise, swimming, gardening, and bowling can stimulate adenosine, which builds sleep pressure through vigorous, moderate, or mild energy expenditure. The more energy you expend during the day, the better sleep will be.

The release of sleep-inducing chemicals can be facilitated by exercising for 30-40 minutes, especially aerobic activities. It may not be possible for your loved one to do most exercises, but dancing, swimming and water exercises, golfing, running, cycling, and lawn bowling are all beneficial for them. Before starting a new fitness regimen, consult your physician.

  1. Engage in pleasant activities on a regular basis

Taking part in pleasant activities, such as crafting, reading, or listening to music, may also reduce depression symptoms and improve sleep quality. A resident’s sleep quality and psychiatric and physical health can be maximized by identifying meaningful, pleasant activities.

  1. During the day, maximize light exposure

Humans sleep in the dark and wake up in the light. Darkness promotes the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes drowsiness. Light signals regulate our biological rhythms. The effects of artificial light can also affect our circadian system (e.g., smartphones, computers).

It is important for nursing home residents to be exposed to natural sunlight at least 30 minutes before bedtime (to cue their bodies to wakefulness) and limit their use of light-emitting devices before bed (to cue their bodies to sleep). Whether you turn digital clocks around or tape them, keep the bedroom dark and free of distractions.

  1. Maintain a comfortable temperature

Residents will sleep more comfortably if their ideal room temperature is set and maintained. Our circadian rhythm, also known as our internal clock, is also synchronized by our core body temperature. It helps to initiate and maintain sleep when the body temperature decreases by 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Cool sleeping helps residents fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer so they can cycle through the deepest sleep stages. This can be achieved by keeping residents’ rooms cool and dark, typically between 62 – 70F (although this is still debated).

A bath or shower 60 to 120 minutes before bed can also hasten sleep onset by lowering core body temperature, a thermoregulatory process essential to sleep. By eliciting heat from the body’s core to its surface, passive body heating naturally cools the body. It may be beneficial for residents to incorporate this into their bedtime routine.

  1. Consult with the ordering physician

If there are any medication schedules set throughout the night, talk with the ordering physician. In some cases, caregivers may be able to alter the schedule by working with the ordering physician. The majority of medication orders are written at hospitals and may not be required in nursing homes.

  1. Get in touch with the staff

Whenever a problem persists, or another problem arises, the staff should be consulted. It is important to speak with staff to resolve issues with shifts and staffing.

If you’re having trouble pairing up roommates, speak with staff. A resident who likes to wake up early can be paired with another resident who likes to rise early.

Last Word

Sleep issues can vary from person to person, as nursing homes and residents are all different. Hence, you may be unable to use all the tips above. For best results, obtain recommendations and information from your loved one’s attending provider.