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The Elderly Falling Asleep While Sitting: Cause For Concern?

Falling asleep while sitting down is a common occurrence. In today’s busy world, we’ve all experienced the embarrassment that comes with falling asleep sitting in the weekly staff meeting. Our hectic schedules can lead to falling asleep when sitting at our computer, or when we sit down to watch a movie. There’s an explanation for these little cat naps we steal whenever we can…we’re tired!

But what about the person who is elderly and no longer keeps such a hectic pace? “Why do I fall asleep when I sit down?” or “My husband falls asleep when he sits down” are familiar topics of conversation among ladies “of a certain age” when they get together for a lunch date or a cup of coffee.

Let’s look at a few reasons why falling asleep and sitting down occurs, and when to be concerned about it.

Sleep deprivation: One of the main causes of falling asleep when sitting down is you’re not getting enough sleep at night. According to the National Institute on Aging, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Many elderly people have difficulty sleeping at night, so they spend their days feeling tired and sluggish.

Sleep Apnea: Short pauses in breathing while sleeping, snoring, and excessive fatigue during the day are all signs that you may be suffering from sleep apnea. This is a condition that can lead to other problems such as heart problems, stroke, high blood pressure and even memory loss or dementia. Sleep apnea might be the reason you are falling asleep while sitting down.

Medications: Certain medications such as psychoactive meds or even some blood pressure medications can be the cause of insomnia in elderly adults.

Movement Disorders: Movement disorders are neurological disorders that cause increased movement or slower movements. These are conditions such as restless leg syndrome or rapid eye movement, and they can be associated with the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep at night.

If you are having trouble sleeping at night, try the following tips to help break the cycle of insomnia.

  • Avoid caffeine, especially in the late afternoon and at night.

  • Limit your screen time at least two hours before bedtime.

  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable. Keep it at a moderate temperature, make sure it’s dark and quiet for the best sleep.

  • Limit your food consumption close to bedtime.

  • Get some form of exercise during the day, but don’t exercise close to bedtime.

  • Establish a bedtime routine and try to stick to it.

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Consume alcohol in moderation or not at all.

If you try the suggestions offered here and continue to have difficulty with insomnia and falling asleep while sitting down, you should consult with your physician. Occasional drowsiness is common and happens to everyone, but if your inability to sleep at night interferes with your daytime activities, it may be time to consult your doctor. There may be an underlying cause or medical condition that is causing your excessive sleepiness during your waking hours. Your physician can evaluate your concerns and determine whether medical testing or intervention is indicated.

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