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Sometimes there's nothing better than taking a nap in the afternoon. If you're no longer working full time, a brief siesta can be the ultimate indulgence for senior living. 

However, if you or someone you love is spending a lot of their time feeling sleepy throughout the day, it could be a sign of disrupted sleep – a situation that could have serious ramifications for their health. 

Here we look at some recent research which investigates the link between daytime sleepiness and cognitive decline, as well as how much sleep you should be getting each night.  

The importance of sleep

Sleep deprivation can impact our alertness as well as our decision making skills. Sleep deprivation can impact our alertness as well as our decision making skills.

Sleep is an important facet of our health and well-being throughout our life span. Not only is it vital for physically resting our bodies, many restorative processes take place as we sleep – our blood pressure drops, our muscles relax and blood flow increases, with tissue repair taking place.

The hormone that assists our body in preparing for sleep, melatonin, is produced less as we age, making it more difficult to get off to sleep. The Sleep Health Foundation (SHF) notes that about 30 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men take over half an hour to get to sleep each night. 

Adults from 65 years and up should aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, according to the SHF. 

Sleep deprivation can not only cause us to feel drowsy, it can also result in reduced awareness, impaired decision making and poorer memory, according to the Better Health Channel. Other studies have also linked sleep deprivation with a higher risk of falls in the elderly. 

Daytime sleepiness 

Daytime drowsiness affects many seniors. Daytime drowsiness affects many seniors.

A condition estimated to affect up to 50 per cent of older people, daytime sleepiness is believed to be caused by sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), which encompasses various conditions where a person's natural breathing patterns are interrupted during sleep. SDB can vary between heavy snoring all the way to obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). 

The disruption to our breathing can cause broken sleep, with the frequent awakenings leading to us feeling tired during the day.

A recent study published in the journal Neurology looked at the link between sleepiness and cognitive impairment. The findings showed that people with cognitive impairment experienced more 'light' sleep than 'deep' sleep, and also had higher sleepiness scores.

With the study identifying a link between older people (65 years and up) with cognitive impairment and higher levels of sleep disruption, it poses an interesting question as to whether a lack of sleep could be having detrimental effects on the ageing brain. 

Could treating the cause of disrupted sleep prevent cognitive decline? 

In response to the study, a researcher from the University of Boston had some interesting observations to make regarding the link between breathing disruption such as OSA and cognitive impairment. He believed that treating OSA could potentially improve the lives of those with dementia or cognitive impairment. 

"Although this does not necessarily mean that sleep apnea causes cognitive impairment in the elderly, it does highlight the association,"said Dr Sanford Auerbach, director of the Boston Medical Center's Sleep Disorders Center.

"Nevertheless, it does raise the issue that clinicians evaluating OSA in the elderly should screen for cognitive impairments. Furthermore, clinicians evaluating cognitive impairment in the elderly should also screen their patients for sleep disturbance and OSA."

If you're concerned for the your own well-being or that of a relative, the team at Bannister In Home Care are here to help. From Companion Care to our more comprehensive services such as Disability Care for higher-needs clients, we can work with you to find the best support.