Why Seniors Suddenly Start Falling Out of Bed?

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It is possible for seniors to suddenly start falling out of bed while they are asleep. Sometimes such incidents are a one-time thing, or they occur occasionally. There could be many reasons behind it. It is best not to come to any conclusions too early, and seeing a doctor before falling from a bed could result in a fatal injury. In this post, I discuss why this could be happening to you, or your loved one. 

Why do seniors fall out of bed while asleep?

It is hypothesized that older people may fall out of bed due to a condition known as Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder. They fall out of bed as a result of acting out their dreams. For instance, if the person dreams about walking on a street, they may get up on their feet and begin walking on the bed resulting in a fall. All of this occurs while they are still unconscious.

According to a study done by the Maywood-based Loyola University Medical Center, a person suffering from REM behavior disorder may begin kicking, screaming, throwing things, punching in the air, or falling out of bed. 

REM behavior disorder is a psychiatric condition that occurs mainly in men. Bear in mind that this is not a mental illness, it is far more serious than mental stress or insomnia. There are incidents reported when a person began kicking and punching their partner (who was sleeping adjacent to them on the bed) resulting in injuries to both. 

This also leads to chaos and confusion at night time. When one partner begins acting out their dreams they move their body while lying on the bed. The situation usually escalates and they roll over and fall out of bed. A fall results in injuries, which also wakes them up from sleep. The person dreaming is clueless as they have no recollection of the actions they performed a few minutes prior to the fall. 

The doctor (Dr. Nabeela Nasir) who performed the study says they still don’t know how prevalent this condition is. He says the patients do not report it as they think it is normal for a person to act out their dreams, and they do not recognize it as a health issue. 

Also, I think you need the other partner not to judge the person who wakes up in their sleep screaming and kicking. The other partner must remain calm during an episode.  The next day they should take their loved one to a sleep specialist doctor or a somnologist. 

Sleep has two types of patterns: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A person has his or her dreams during the REM phase of sleep. This is where a person’s dreams feel real, but they cannot act them out as the body goes into temporary paralysis. 

The body of the person suffering from REM behavior disorder does not go into temporary paralysis during the REM sleep phase. Hence, they are able to move their limbs, which often results in falling out of bed and getting injured. Their family members can do very little in this situation as this is a psychiatric condition—- a doctor’s invention is necessary. 

Are there any devices that could help?

I don’t think it is a good idea to tie your loved one onto the bed, and I am pretty sure it is unlawful. It would be great if you were somehow alerted when your loved one tries to get out of bed while asleep. Bed alarm systems designed for the elderly can help you in such a scenario. I suggest you check out this device that I reviewed a while back. 

How do I avoid potential injuries that could result from falling out of bed?

You can install bed rails (also known as side rails) to prevent the senior person from rolling out of the bed while asleep. The bed rails are easy to install, and they are available in several sizes and shapes. You can find them online, or visit the nearest Walmart. 

In addition to providing safety, bed rails can also offer the following benefits:

  • They help reposition while lying or sitting on the bed
  • They offer a sense of safety and security, which results in sound sleep
  • The person sleeping can hold the bed rails while getting up from sleep
  • They make it easy to transport (to a wheelchair) a person with limited mobility

If you are not a fan of bed rails, I suggest you buy some pool noodles from the nearest Dollar General store. You can also get pool noodles online

Why pool noodles?

pool noodles
Image credit: Wikimedia

Pool noodles are made with a special type of foam that is dense and firm. A pool noodle can bear the weight of an elderly person without losing its shape. The one from Oodles is slimmer and has a narrow gap, but you can go for a jumbo-sized pool noodle which is wider.  

How to use a pool noodle?

You can place a pool noodle on the edge of the bed— under the sheet. Feel free to use more than one unit. The pool noodle will create a barrier between your loved one and the edge of the bed. As they shift towards the edge of the bed (while asleep), the pool noodle will prevent them from rolling over. Moreover, you can also place an array of pool noodles on the floor where your loved one is most likely to fall— as a preventive measure. 

I found this YouTube video by Latitude Adventures. It details how to build a pool noodle bed rails, the easy way.

Lastly, you need to know about hypnic jerks

hypnic jerks

Hypnic jerks are involuntary muscle twitches that prevent a person from falling from a bed while asleep. It is primal behavior that protects us from falling from an elevated makeshift bed (such as tree bark, in the past). Hypnic jerks prevented humans from falling from trees as a result of dozing off. 

Studies suggest that 60% and 70% of the general population exhibit hypnic jerks, and hence most people do not fall from a bed. It’s possible that your loved one does not exhibit hypnic jerks and as a result is falling from a bed at night.

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