As we age, sleep often becomes more elusive. Research shows that the elderly tend to experience less REM sleep, which can leave them feeling fatigued during the day. Fortunately, a weighted blanket may be able to help seniors get the restorative sleep they need to feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Here’s a look at why sleep troubles sometimes crop up later in life, as well as six ways weighted blanket benefits might help you or your loved one.
Why Sleep Problems Often Come with Age
If you have an elderly loved one, or you’re an older person yourself, you may have heard that people simply need less sleep as they age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this is incorrect. On average, older adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to stay healthy and well-rested.
Unfortunately, many seniors don’t get the sleep they need. In surveys, people age 65 and older consistently report suffering higher rates of insomnia compared to people in younger demographics. In the 65+ group, insomnia rates were 39 percent. For people between the ages of 18 and 29, the insomnia rate was 24 percent.
There are a number of reasons why the elderly experience more insomnia than their younger counterparts. Some people naturally experience a shift in their circadian rhythm as they get older. When researchers examined the brains of deceased individuals, they found that people under 40 at the time of their death had a “classic” circadian rhythm in their brain tissue. By contrast, the brains of individuals over 60 exhibited changes indicating a different type of circadian rhythm.
In addition to natural changes in circadian rhythm, other things can negatively affect sleep in older adults. Illnesses and medical conditions can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. In other people, a decline in physical activity leads to an overall less healthy lifestyle, which in turn impacts sleep. Also, certain kinds of medications come with side effects that cause sleep disturbances.
5 Ways a Weighted Blanket May Help Age-related Insomnia
Just because we get older, however, doesn’t mean poor sleep quality is inevitable. If you’re an older adult, or you have an elderly loved one in your life, there are several things you can do to combat insomnia.
While some people turn to prescription or over the counter sleep aids, others prefer a more natural route. Additionally, some kinds of sleep medications are contraindicated for people who already take other types of prescription drugs.
Weighted blankets have long been associated with conditions like autism and sensory processing disorder. However, weighted blankets are for everyone. Made with about 10 percent of a person’s body weight, they work by applying firm but gentle pressure to the body — a type of therapy called deep pressure stimulation or deep touch pressure therapy. You can think of it like a gentle, full-body hug. If you’ve ever snuggled under a down comforter, you may have already experienced the benefits of a weighted blanket. People who use them report feeling calmer, less anxious and more relaxed.
If you’d like to sleep better, or you’re looking for a way to help your elderly parent or loved one get more restorative sleep, here are six ways a weighted blanket may be able to help.
Help Reduce Stress
Just about everyone could use better sleep. Unfortunately, stressful thoughts can make sleep almost impossible. In older people, a lack of proper sleep has been linked to stress, irritability, depression and even a higher risk of suffering a fall. There’s a misconception that being retired and out of the hustle and bustle of the daily grind means you naturally experience less stress.
In fact, researchers say it’s just the opposite. According to one study, “Elders aged 85 and older are more vulnerable to stress and depression than other age groups due to increasing stressors with age resulting from declining health and dwindling social relationships.”
When researchers measured how a weighted blanket affects the physiological symptoms of stress (blood pressure, pulse rate, pulse oximetry and electrodermal activity), they found that 33 percent of study participants demonstrated lower electrodermal activity. Among study participants, 63 percent said they felt less anxious, and 78 percent said they “preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.”
Ease Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome can affect people of all ages. About 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from the syndrome, with women making up a higher number of sufferers. It’s also quite common in older adults. Researchers estimate that up to 35 percent of people age 65 and older are affected by restless leg syndrome.
People who experience the syndrome feel an uncontrollable urge to move their legs, with some describing it as a “pins and needles” or “creepy crawly” sensation. While these uncomfortable feelings can happen at various times throughout the day or night, many sufferers say their strongest symptoms flare up just before bed.
Weighted blankets deliver deep pressure to the body, and many people find that the downward weight helps them relax and experience deeper, more restful sleep. This firm, consistent pressure is like a hug around the legs, which may help ease the pins and needles sensations of restless leg syndrome.
Help Reduce Anxiety
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that 10 percent of people between the ages of 55 and 85 years old experience some type of anxiety disorder. Many different health conditions, including dementia and Alzheimer’s, can cause anxiety. Studies have shown that weighted blankets can ease anxiety in children and adults alike.
Research has shown that adults and children who use weighted blankets report lower levels of anxiety. In a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, researchers stated, “The application of deep pressure, through for example weighted vests and blankets, has been reported to produce a calming and relaxing effect in clinical conditions… Applying deep pressure has been shown to be beneficial for children with high levels of anxiety or arousal and deep pressure touch may also alleviate anxiety. There are also anecdotal reports suggesting that the elderly who suffer from anxiety and dementia may find relief from deep pressure touch and many nursing homes are experimenting with weighted blankets.”
Improve Sleep Quality
Sleep experts talk often of sleep hygiene. This doesn’t mean showering or using plenty of deodorant before bed. Rather, sleep hygiene refers to the individual’s sleep habits and overall sleep environment.
When we’re younger, we are more likely to grab our sleep when and where we can get it. For example, teenagers seem capable of falling asleep just about anywhere, whether it’s a sofa or the floor of a friend’s house. Likewise, college students can pull an all-nighter and then get up the next day and attend class. This isn’t to say that sleep hygiene is unimportant when we’re young. Rather, our bodies are much better equipped to spring back into action in our teens and twenties.
As we age and sleep becomes more elusive, however, good sleep hygiene becomes even more important. While a good sleep environment is critical at every age, it’s particularly important for the elderly, who may suffer health problems or other conditions that make it difficult for them to fall asleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are several considerations to keep in mind when creating a good sleep environment. Tips for improving your sleep hygiene include limiting daytime naps, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and avoiding stimulants like caffeine. It’s also important to make your bedroom a place you actually want to sleep. A weighted blanket may help you relax and feel calmer, which may improve your sleep quality.
Help Fight Depression
Depression can strike at any age, but it’s particularly common in the elderly. Some estimates state that over 2 million people over the age of 65 suffer from some form of depression. According to the National Institute on Aging, depression is not a normal part of the aging process. In other words, age alone is not the cause of depression, and elderly individuals who feel depressed shouldn’t dismiss their feelings and symptoms as inevitable or untreatable.
Depression has been linked to a variety of health conditions, including insomnia. One study states: “The impairment of sleep has short- and long-term effects. It can lead to depression, burn-out, psychosomatic disorders, and addictions, as well as other serious health problems.”
In the same study, participants reported feeling calmer and less anxious while using a weighted blanket for sleep. Those who used a weighted blanket also said they slept longer and didn’t move around as much as they slept. Researchers noted that “participants liked sleeping with the blanket, found it easier to settle down to sleep and had an improved sleep, where they felt more refreshed in the morning.”
Help Manage the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder that affects a person’s cognitive abilities, including memory and behavior. In its advanced stages, the disease can impair an individual’s ability to carry out daily tasks, such as dressing and other types of self-care. There are about 5.5 million people with Alzheimer’s in the United States. People with Alzheimer’s can suffer from depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, it is possible to manage the symptoms. Because weighted blankets have been shown to reduce anxiety, ease depression and improve sleep quality, many caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s rely on weighted blankets to help their loved ones rest more comfortably.
Order Your Luna Weighted Blanket Today
Good sleep is important at every age. At Luna, we’re committed to helping America sleep better and feel more rested. Take a look at our order page to view a wide range of solid and pattern fabrics.
We welcome your questions! Get in touch by calling us at 212-473-4013, or use our online contact form to speak to one of our helpful team members.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment.