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Senior Sleeping In The Winter

Dec 31, 2017 by Comfort Keepers Denver

Sleep problems are very common amongst the senior population. They typically arise as a side effect from some sort of condition, especially forms of dementia. Unfortunately, sleep problems are also the cause of many other issues this population faces.

Yet, for some reason, the winter makes us all sleepy. Do you find it difficult to get out of your nice, cozy bed on those cold mornings, or do you feel the urge to curl up in the middle of the day to take a nap? You’re not the only one who feels this way.

Why does this happen and how can seniors benefit from it? A study from 2000 gives us insight on historical human sleep patterns during the winter, and lessons we can learn from them:

Russian Hibernation

This article published 17 years ago talks about how Russian peasants used to practice, essentially, hibernation.

For example, when the first snow would fall, an entire family would sleep encircling a fire, taking turns keeping the flames going. They’d wake up briefly once a day to eat some dry bread and water, then resume their sleeping pattern. This would last for half of the year, until the snow melted and plants began to bloom.

Obviously, none of us can sleep in that manner today, but perhaps there’s something to take away from this evidence.

Do We Need More Winter Sleep Nowadays?

Because winter days are shorter, physiologically, our bodies are programmed to want more sleep. Shorter days means less sunlight, and so when the sun goes down early, we want to, also.

Just like bears and other hibernating animals, we are mammals who used to act in a similar fashion. It’s entirely natural, and even necessary, to sleep more during the wintertime.

Combatting Elderly Sleep Problems

This is fantastic news for seniors, as they generally need more sleep to begin with. Some common sleep issues the elderly have are:

  • Poor REM sleep (the deep sleep we need to wake up feeling refreshed) due to medications, such as antidepressants
  • Light sleeping and poor REM sleep from smoking
  • Confusion or Sundowner’s Syndrome in dementia patients
  • Insomnia, from a variety of causes
  • The natural tendency for older people to sleep less and more lightly

Therefore, if you’re feeling yourself getting sleepy, roll with it. Don’t feel lazy if you’re getting out of bed later or taking more naps – that’s the right thing to do this time of year!

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