Sleep disorders often signal underlying diseases in older adults. Because of this, sleep disorders are very common in long term care residences. Research suggests that sleep disorders and their related problems are significantly worse for institutionalized individuals than they are for people living in the community.
The rate of sleep disorders in nursing homes is so high because its residents are more often lacking in social and intellectual stimulation than other older adults. Furthermore, various environmental factors (e.g. lighting, noise, scheduling, etc.) have also been found to contribute to sleep disorders.
Previous research indicates that participating in activities in the nursing home can alleviate certain sleep disorder symptoms. Keeping residents occupied with meaningful activities and engaged in challenging exercise during the day has been associated with a reduction in sleep disorders.
This particular study found similar trends regarding sleep disorders and activity participation; however, they discovered that when a nursing home fails to engage inactive residents in activity they often back away from attempting to activate them during the day. This backing away, leads to what they call a “vicious cycle” between resulting in decreased activity participation and significantly worse sleep problems. In short, when a resident began reducing their participation level, the staff then, in turn, began reducing their attempts to activate the residents in activity. These two behaviors not only reinforced sleep problems for the resident, but escalated them.
Nursing home staff should identify residents at risk for social isolation within the residence and work creatively to engage them in some form of meaningful activity. Failure to do so will result in decreased quality of life, health, and other negative consequences of sleeping disorder.
Source: Garms-Homolova, V., Flick, U., Rohnsch, G. 2010. Sleep disorders and activities in long term care facilities – A Vicious Cycle? Journal of Health Psychology 15:744-754.