October 5, 2016
For the third time tonight, around 4 a.m., your mother calls out that she needs help getting to the bathroom. You wearily rise and groggily assist her, trying to muster your last shreds of patience. Tucking her back into bed, you ask yourself if you should even try to hit the pillow again yourself. You’ll have to be up in a couple of hours to get ready for work, anyway. Deciding you might as well stay up, you brew a cup of coffee and contemplate how you’re going to get through the day on six scant hours of interrupted sleep.
It’s a common scenario for family caregivers. Maybe you’re familiar with it.
Many health conditions can prompt seniors to get up during the night. Overactive bladder, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain and insomnia are just a few of the conditions that might plague seniors and cause them to wake up multiple times every night. And when they require assistance during these waking episodes, your own sleep becomes fragmented.
Tips to Make Nighttime Caregiving Easier
Fortunately, family caregivers can employ several strategies to make nighttime caregiving easier and more efficient, potentially minimizing sleep interruption for everyone involved. Here are some tips to help, based on the reason a senior gets up during the night.
1. Frequent urination
If a loved one formerly slept through the night but has begun getting up to use the bathroom frequently, you might want to consult his or her doctor to make sure the senior does not have a urinary tract infection or some other treatable condition. Seniors often do not process pain signals the way younger people do, so they may not express having discomfort with urination even if they have an infection.
If an infection has been ruled out and the senior simply needs to empty his or her bladder frequently at night, then you might streamline the process by adding a portable bedside commode. These chair-style items make it easy and quick for a senior to get up, urinate, and climb back into bed. They also enhance safety, since seniors don’t have to walk a long distance in the dark to reach the toilet.
2. Chronic pain
Aging often brings with it a host of aches and pains. These nagging complaints can make it difficult for a senior to get comfortable in bed and sleep through the night.
Once again, a first step might be to have a chat with your loved one’s doctor, especially for new complaints of pain. A medical professional may be able to pinpoint the cause of pain and prescribe medication or make specific suggestions for alleviating the discomfort in order to make sleeping easier.
However, if the pain is ongoing, try using pillows, a foam mattress topper or even an adjustable bed to help the senior find a comfortable sleeping position. Through a process of trial-and-error, try tucking pillows between the knees, behind the back or under the head to find out what combination relieves the senior’s discomfort. A mattress topper may add softness that relieves pressure point pain. And an adjustable bed, the ultimate sleeping comfort item, might provide general pain relief.
Many people think insomnia means being wide awake all night, but that’s not the case. Clinically speaking, insomnia refers to any type of chronically disrupted sleep. This includes periods of frequent waking.
Insomnia occurs more frequently in seniors, though researchers aren’t quite sure why. Sometimes medications can trigger insomnia, so if a senior family member suddenly begins having trouble sleeping through the night you might want to consult his or her doctor for an evaluation.
If a senior loved one wakes frequently, make sure the bedroom contains a comfortable chair and low-level lights for reading or another non-stimulating activity like knitting or completing crossword puzzles. Avoid using tablet computers or cell phones during these episodes because their “blue light” emission is known to inhibit drowsiness.
If these techniques don’t work, and a senior family member experiences insomnia that causes you to sacrifice your own sleep for weeks or months on end, then it might be time to call in a professional. Home Instead Senior Care® CAREGiversSM can provide overnight supervision of sleepless seniors so you can get a decent night’s rest without worrying about your loved one’s safety.
4. Alzheimer’s disease
Many seniors with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia engage in rummaging behavior during the night. Some theories suggest rummaging is tied to anxiety, but the behavior could have any number of triggers. While you may not be able to eliminate this behavior entirely, you can strive to manage the situation and get the senior returned to bed by:
- Removing all dangerous objects like scissors from the rummaging area.
- Creating a safe rummage bag, drawer or even room (like a walk-in closet). The rummage bag should include the types of item the senior seems to enjoy sorting through. Often this includes clothing, like socks. Observe the senior’s behavior to get a sense of what types of objects they like to handle, and include these in the bag.
- When the senior awakens to rummage at night, direct him or her to the designated bag, drawer or room. Do not disturb the rummaging. Keep lights low.
Nighttime Safety Tips for All Conditions
No matter why a senior rises at night, you should consider several general safety practices to avoid a fall or other accident.
- Create adequate low-level lighting. This might mean installing several nightlights, mounting stick-on LED lights beneath cabinets or even securing rope lights to the floor or stair steps to illuminate safe walking paths. Be sure rope lights do not become a trip hazard.
- Use a baby monitor to hear a senior moving around at night. Place the monitor in the most strategic location for your needs. For instance, if you are not concerned about the senior moving around his or her own bedroom, then you don’t need to put a baby monitor there. However, if you want to be alerted should the senior enter the kitchen, then place the monitor there.
- Consider a bed alarm if a senior has advanced dementia and wanders. These devices alert you with a tone if the senior leaves his or her bed.
- Consider bringing in outside help. Professional CAREGivers can provide overnight supervision, toileting assistance and much more. This attentive oversight can help a senior avoid falling or injuring herself in another way.
You give so much through caregiving, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your sleep. Family caregivers who experience chronic sleeplessness face a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other medical conditions. By using the above tips to manage a senior loved one’s waking episodes as efficiently as possible, you create more robust sleep opportunities for everyone.
Get helpful tips and articles like these delivered to your email.