Insomnia In Elderly

 ... insomnia in elderly

Insomnia or Sleeplessness

Author: sulamita berrezi

Insomnia or sleeplessness has assumed alarming proportions in present times, especially

among the upper classes in urban areas. This is evident from the wide range of medication for

this condition prescribed by physicians and sold by chemists. Instances of persons taking an

overdose of sleeping pills with fatal results are quite frequent. Insomnia deprives a person of

mental rest and thereby interferes with his activities in the daytime. It constitutes a severe health

hazard when it becomes a habit.

Sleep is a periodic state of rest for the body which is absolutely essential for its efficient

functioning. Sleep gives relief from tension, rests the brain and body and a person wakes up in

the morning fresh and relaxed after sleep. The amount of sleep, however, varies within very

wide limits from individual to individual. Normally, seven to eight hours of sleep every night is

adequate for most people. Some, however, do well with four to five hours because their sleep is

deeper and more refreshing.

Insomnia is common among the elderly for a variety of reasons. The sleep of the elderly is often

punctuated by brief periods of wakefulness during the night. IN such cases it is the quality rather

than the quantity which is most affected. With age, there is gradual reduction of periods of deep

sleep. The older person, therefore, gets roused easier. Sleep requirements also diminish with

ageing. From nine hours of sleep per night at the age of 12 the average sleep needs decrease to

eight hours at the age of 20 , seven hours at 40 , six and half hours at 60 and six hours at 80.


The signs of pathological insomnia are dramatic changes in the duration and quality of sleep,

persistent changes in sleep patterns, lapses of memory and lack of concentration during the day.

Other symptoms are emotional instability, loss of coordination, confusion and a lingering feeling

of indifference.


The most common cause of sleeplessness is mental tension brought about by anxiety, worries,

overwork and overexcitement. Suppressed feelings of resentment, anger and bitterness may

also cause insominia. Constipation, dyspepsia, over-eating at night, excessive intake of tea or

coffee and going to bed hungry are among the other causes. Smoking is another unsuspected

cause of insomnia as it irritates the nervous system, especially the nerves of the digestive

system. Often, worrying about falling asleep is enough to keep one awake.

The Cure

Sleeping pills are no remedy for sleeplessness. They are habit forming and become less

effective when taken continuously. They lower the I.Q., dull the brain and can prove fatal if taken

in excess or before or after alcohol. The side-effects of sleeping pills include indigestion, skin

rashes, lowered resistance to infection, circulatory and respiratory problems, poor appetite, high

blood pressure, kidney and liver problems and mental confusion.

To overcome the problem, one should adhere to a regular sleeping schedule, going to bed at a

fixed time each night and getting up at a fixed time each morning. Early to bed and early to rise

is a good rule. Two hours of sleep before midnight are more beneficial than four after. It is sheer

folly for students, at examination times, to keep awake till long after midnight, drinking one cup of

tea after another, as that is only apt to cause blackness and inability to concentrate in the

examination hall.

Research has shown that people with chronic insomnia almost invariably marked deficiencies of

such key nutrients as B-complex vitamins, and vitamin C and D as also calcium,magnesium,

manganese, potassium and zinc. The sleep mechanism is unable to function efficiently unless

each of these nutrients is present in adequate amounts in the diet.

A balanced diet with simple modifications in the eating pattern will go a long way in the treatment

and cure of insominia. Such a diet should exclude white flour products, sugar and its products,

tea ,coffee, chocolate, cola drinks, alcohol, fatty foods, fried foods, foods containing additives,

that is chemicals for preserving, colouring and flavouring, excessive use of salt and strong


In the modified eating pattern, breakfast should consist of fresh and dried fruits, whole cereals,

seeds and yogurt. Of the two main meals, one should consist of a large mixed salad and the

other should be protein-based. A cup of milk sweetened with honey at bedtime is helpful as the

amino-acid tryptophan contained in milk induces sleep.

Sleep is often elusive. Any attempt to force it only drives it further away. It is better to divert the

mind with soft music or light reading. While going to bed, visualise a blank black wall occupying

the entire field of vision. Turn your thoughts to light and cheerful matters. Use light bed clothes

and relax. Do not lie on your back, put on your side with one or both knees brought well up and

the head and shoulders slightly forward. During the night, the position of the arms and legs

should be changed frequently and a healthy sleeper usually shifts from one side to the other

several times in the course of the night.

Controlled breathing is also a great help in inducing sleep. The method is to lie on your side in

bed, and then take three deep breaths expanding the abdomen completely. Then hold your

brath as long as you can. Next, take three more breaths and repeat the breath-holding. While

you hold your breath, carbon dioxide accumulates in the body and induces natural sleep.

Regular, active exercising during the day and mild exercise at bedtime enhances the quantity

and the quality of sleep. Exercise stimulates the elimination of lactic acid from the body which

correlates with stress and muscular tension. Regular exercise also produces hormonal changes

which are beneficial to the body and to the sleep pattern. Walking, jogging, skipping, swimming

are all ideal exercises. Vigorous exercise should, however, be avoided at night as this can be



Yoga helps a majority of cases of insomnia in two ways. Firstly, yoga treatment helps tone up

the glandular, respiratory and nervous system. Secondly, yoga also gives physical and mental

relaxation as a safety value for one's disturbing problems. The traditional yogasanas which are

effective for insomnia patients are shirsana, sarvangasana, paschimottanasana,

uttanasan,viparitakarni and shavasana.

Hydrotherapy is also effective in treatment of insomnia. Application of hot packs to the spine

before retiring, hot fomentation to the spine , hot foot bath or an alternate hot and cold foot bath

at bedtime are all time-tested methods. The cold hip bath with the feet in hot water and the

prolonged neutral immersion bath (92 o to 96 o F) at bed time, when one's nerves are usually

irritable, are also effective measures.

Along with the various measures for the treatment of insomnia, all efforts should be made to

eliminate as many stress factors as possible. The steps in this direction should include regular

practice of any relaxation method or meditation technique, cultivating the art of doing things

slowly (particularly activities like eating, walking and talking) limiting the working day to nine to

ten hours and five and a half days weekly, cultivating a creative hobby and spending some time

daily on this, avoiding working against unrealistic targets and completing one task before starting


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About the Author

Sulamita work on le canzoni del festival di sanremo negli anni 80, and canzoni sanremo anni 80and festival canzone italiana anni 80

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