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How Sleep Loss Increases the Likelihood of Falls

A loss of sleep has a negative impact on the quality of life for people of all ages. Sleep deprivation can lead to a loss of alertness, weak physical equilibrium, delayed reaction times, memory loss, affected mood, and suppressed immunity, among other symptoms.

Many symptoms associated with sleep loss pose a greater risk for slipping and falling, and the injuries that may result from falling. The elderly are at great risk for both loss of sleep and sustaining injury from slips and falls. Falls are costly on an emotional, physical, and financial level for everyone, especially seniors.

How Sleep Loss Leads to Lack of Performance

Falling down poses one of the greatest health risks to the elderly. Twenty-five percent of Americans aged 65+ are reported to fall each year. Sleep loss is associated with falls, and it is believed that sleep loss can lead to dangerous falls.

Several factors combine that lead to an overall loss of sleep among the elderly.

First, human sleep architecture changes over time. The neurons in the brain that regulate our sleep patterns begin to die off as we age. The pineal gland, responsible for creating melatonin, begins to shrink and reduces the amount of sleep hormone along with it. Sleep problems may be a result of menopause and can continue into post-menopause. Chronic health conditions associated with the elderly may be accompanied by their own insomnia symptoms. These diseases include:

Structural life changes also affect how seniors sleep. Emotions impact sleep and seniors are faced with a variety of emotional obstacles as their lives change.

Retirement is a transition that can be emotionally traumatizing. Anxiety and grief may plague the elderly as they lose friends and loved ones over time. Stress about finances, along with the burden of medical bills, may lead to further anxiety and even depression.

Seniors may also take medications, such as blood thinners, antidepressants, sedatives, and blood pressure medications, that can all impact their equilibrium.

Sleep-deprived people often experience:

The negative impacts of sleep deprivation may easily lead to slips and falls. Memory loss, less attention to the tasks at hand, impaired decision-making, and slower reaction times can all lead to a loss of balance that may result in injury.

Senses, such as sight and hearing, often decline with age. Additionally, the elderly tend to exercise – a natural means to fatigue the body and promote healthy sleep – less, which in turn further impairs their physical reactivity, along with their spatial awareness.

While it may not be the most obvious contribution to injuries that are a result of falling down, sleep loss is a silent and potentially dangerous contributor to the decline of quality of life for seniors.

Dangers of Slips and Falls

Slips and falls pose a great health risk to people of all ages, but particularly the elderly. The risk of death following a bone fracture increases in patients over 50 years old. That increase can be between 20-25% in the first year following a femur or hip fracture.

Falls may result in broken bones, such as the wrist, arm, ankle, and hip. Falls may also result in head injuries. A traumatic head injury can be a serious health threat, especially if that person is on certain types of medication such as blood thinners.  Even without an injury, any senior who slips or falls should see a doctor immediately if they fall to get a full checkup.

Statistics on elderly falls show the problem can cause serious injury:

  • One out of five falls results in a serious injury such as a broken bone.
  • 3 million people aged 65 and older are seen in emergency departments for fall-related injuries each year.
  • More than 800,000 patients each year are hospitalized as a result of a fall injury, typically due to a hip fracture or head injury.
  • Over 300,000 people aged 65 or older are hospitalized due to hip fractures each year.
  • Over 95% of hip fractures are the result of a fall. Falls are also the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Even without an injury, falls are frightening to seniors and can negatively impact their lives. Fear of falling may lead to a decrease of activity and mobility. That decrease in mobility can further weaken muscles, physical and spatial awareness, and dull a senior’s sense of balance. In turn, fear can lead to a variety of life changes that may increase the risk of falling.

But falls are not only emotionally daunting and physically hazardous. They pose a great financial risk for seniors, whose income may be limited, due to medical bills.

In 2015, the total medical costs associated with falls exceeded $50 billion, and that number is expected to grow substantially over the next 20 years. That same year, the medical costs associated with nonfatal falls in the U.S. were estimated to total around $49.5 billion, including $28.9 billion paid by Medicare, $8.7 billion paid by Medicaid, and $12 billion paid by other sources (such as private insurance and out-of-pocket payments).

The burden is not only on the pockets of the elderly, but the healthcare and social system too. Social programs that help the elderly have shrunk over the past two decades. Bankruptcy, partially fueled by medical costs, is an increasing threat to the elderly.

Preventing Slips and Falls with Better Sleep

Most accidents can be prevented by taking the time to be aware of risks and diminishing them. From crumpled rugs to a difficult bed to enter and exit, the bedroom itself is a space that poses a great danger for falling among the elderly. There are tips and tricks to preventing slips and falls with better sleep, including:

  • Prepare Your Bedroom for Safe Sleeping: It’s important that the room in which you sleep is arranged safely. Remove rugs that can lead to tripping, install handles in the bedroom and bathroom to prevent losing balance when going to the bathroom, and clear the pathway between the bed and bathroom to ensure safe travel between them.
  • Illuminate Your Spaces: Dim lighting can easily lead to falling. Install light switches next to the bed that illuminate the path to the exit and bathroom. Make sure that all lightbulbs are working during the day.
  • Get out of Bed Slowly: Your blood pressure is often lower when you sleep, so abruptly exiting from bed may make you dizzier and lose your balance.
  • Choose the Right Devices: Assistive devices are designed to support safety in a variety of ways. Along with rails by the bed and in the bathroom, non-slip mats can be installed on tile and wooden floors. A second rail can be installed along staircases to help you catch a fall. Toilet seats can be raised to make exit and entry easier. Fall detectors can alert for help if you do fall, bringing help on the way as soon as possible.
  • Schedule a Visit to the Doctor or Occupational Therapist: Discuss your medications and health history with a professional to ensure that you aren’t putting yourself at a higher risk of falling. An occupational therapist can help you strategize other ways to keep yourself as safe in your spaces as possible.

How to Get a Better Night of Sleep

Attaining that good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to prevent accidents from happening during the day. Here are some of the best ways to ensure that you get the best night’s rest possible to set yourself up for success by day:

  • Develop a Bedtime Ritual: Try to keep the timing the same ass possible, which signals to your body it’s time to wind down and sleep. Make sure to relax before bedtime each nice. That could mean listening to soothing music, stretching, or taking a warm bath.
  • Eliminate Pre-Sleep Screen Time: The light from devices signals to your pineal gland that it should restrict melatonin production, which in turn can prevent you from easily falling asleep. Alarming, suspenseful, or violent shows and moved, like horror movies, may also prevent you from sleeping.
  • Regulate Your Room Temperature: Too cold or too hot of a room can disrupt your comfort levels and sleep. Your body temperature is also an indicator of whether you sleep or wake, so keep your room at a temperature that makes your body happy.
  • Exercise: Avoid exercising within three hours of sleep, but keep to a regulated schedule
  • Eat Wisely: Avoid eating large meals near bedtime. Large meals may keep you awake. Instead, stick to lighter snacks, like a banana, or proteins, like nuts and cottage cheese.  Dairy is also known to promote sleep, as it contains tryptophan.
  • Avoid Stimulants Later in the Day: Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate, is a stimulant that keeps you awake. Certain medications, like nasal decongestants, also contain stimulants. Be sure to ingest stimulants as far away from your bedtime as possible.
  • Avoid Alcohol Before Bed: The concept of a nightcap may initially help you nod off, but alcohol disrupts your body clock and can lead to poor sleep.
  • Nap Early: Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, if possible. Naps may keep you awake at night.
  • Consider Taking Melatonin: Melatonin is an effective sleep aid that can help reset your body clock. Its level in the body decreases over time, so it may be helpful to augment its levels by taking supplements.

Final Thoughts on Sleep Loss and Falling

A combination of healthy life choices can increase the overall quality of life and health for the elderly. Being disciplined about exercise, diet, and sleep can all have a highly positive impact on anybody’s health. But those choices support a healthier outlook for the elderly, whose overall ability to stay active decreases over time.

A good night’s sleep greatly impacts the day that follows it. Understanding the natural changes in human sleep patterns with age and creating awareness around the importance of sleep is a key part of having a healthy life during advanced age. Falling can be a direct result of interrupted sleep, ranging from tripping while getting out of bed, to a loss of balance that results in a slip or fall. The link between a good night’s sleep and avoiding injury from slips and fall is important to understand and should be a part of every senior’s health regime.

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