Nov 23, 2018

Caught Napping: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation Within Aged Care

A good night’s sleep is the equivalent of hitting the ‘reset’ button on your mind and body.

A day’s worth of decisions, thoughts and worries, coupled with the toll of physical activity, require a period of sustained rest in order to harmonise and balance out the body for the following day.

As a person ages, they can become less physically active than they were in their younger years, but contrary to popular opinion, elderly people require just as much sleep as anyone else.

The exact amount of sleep that a person needs in order to function at their best, varies for each individual. But when studied on a grand scale, a person in their 20’s requires the same amount of sleep as someone in their 80’s.

While the elderly are notorious for being early risers, this stigma is not born from lesser sleep requirements. As a person ages, advanced sleep phase syndrome sets in, causing the body’s internal clock to adjust and require earlier bedtimes and wake up times.

Meaning that the amount of sleep required doesn’t change as you age, but the time in which your body needs the rest does.

What Causes Sleeping Problems?

A person’s internal body clock otherwise known ascircadian rhythm,’ regulates the body’s levels of alertness and tiredness throughout the 24 hour day cycle, living a lifestyle that contradicts these patterns can have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.

Many elderly people unknowingly stay up late at night, unaware of the needs for an ageing body, and at a detriment to their own personal health.

The negative effects of living outside the body’s internally regulated time-frame are not exclusive to the elderly though, as aged care employees who work afternoon and night shift also experience higher levels of sleep deprivation which can lead to a litany of problems that may put themselves and residents at risk.

Sugary drinks, caffeine consumption and poor overall dietary habits hinder the body’s ability to prepare itself for rest, as does the use of of mobile phones and other interactive technologies. These types of behavioral patterns are instrumental in the quality of sleep that you receive.

While the effects of sleep deprivation can take a massive toll on the health of younger aged care employees, it’s actually health issues themselves that are one of the main causes of sleep deprivation in the elderly.

Conditions like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome become more common as we age and can have a massive bearing on the quantity and quality of an elderly person’s sleep. Making them more prone to conditions like Insomnia.

Frequent urination and arthritic pain are also common factors that can contribute to sleep deprivation, along with complications attributed to one or multiple chronic diseases. The medications prescribed to deal with chronic illness and other ailments may also result in side effects that can impact a person’s ability to sleep.

Elderly people who are living with dementia can also experience trouble sleeping, and some people believe that disjointed and irregular sleeping patterns may actually be an early indicator for dementia itself.


What are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?

A lack of quality sleep for aged care workers can have a direct impact on their mood and ability to concentrate, which in turn has an effect on the overall safety and wellbeing of those in their care.

Mentally, the elderly also experience mood changes and can become highly agitated, aggressive and confused. While physically, a lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of new chronic diseases and enhance the complications of thr diagnosed illnesses that a person may currently be living with.

Many people living with dementia seem to have a hyper sensitivity to changes in environment, with the late afternoon period having a negative effect on the moods of a high percentage people living with dementia known as ‘Sundowning.’

Sundowning is a topic of conjecture within aged care, with a number of varied schools of thought as to its occurrence.

Sundowning has been attributed to a number of things including sleep deprivation and environmental change, but on the other hand, there are others who believe that sundowning is merely a result of residents sleeping patterns being molded towards facility hours, rather then when they feel like sleeping.

While the root cause of sundowning is up for debate, sleep seems to be a central theme in its causes, which indicates just how pivotal resting within certain time periods throughout the day can be to a person’s overall well being.

Prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can have a devastating effect on the body’s immune system and have been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, low sex-drive, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as well as other chronic diseases.

And the psychological effects of poor sleeping habits can result in impulsive  behaviour and depression, through to more extreme problems like depression and suicidal thoughts.

Signs that a person may be experiencing sleep deprivation include excessive yawning and irritability as well as extreme sleepiness in periods of peak activity and fatigue.

Sleep is one of the most overlooked and undervalued components of an individuals health. And it’s important that both residents and employees know the value of being adequately rested.

While the pressures that aged care employees often face can call for going above and beyond, sometimes focusing on doing less, is actually more in the long-run.

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