Women who sleep less than five hours a night and who are age 70 or older have an increased risk of falling. Falls are a particularly significant health risk for older people as they can lead to complications or death. A research report, published in the September 8 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, adds further to concerns about the effects of sleep deprivation becoming a major health problem.
Sleep deprivation in seniors is fairly common. Two of the most common causes are sleep apnea and the effects of prescription medication. It is estimated that around one-third of people over the age of 65 experience falls each year. Whether the cause of falling is associated with medication is not easy to determine, but if a side effect of medication is sleep disturbance, it could be a contributory factor.
Report author Katie L. Stone, Ph.D., of the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, San Francisco, found that, "use of any benzodiazepine was associated with a 1.34-fold increase in risk of falls, whereas short and long-acting benzodiazepine use was associated with an increased odds of 1.43 and 1.18 respectively."
Researchers monitored the sleep patterns of 2,978 women age 70 and older by asking them to wear watch-like devices called wrist actigraphies. Women were also asked to keep sleep diaries and to complete questionnaires regarding their use of medication.
On average, women in the study slept for just under seven hours per night, with just over an hour spent awake after initial sleep onset. "A total of 549 women (18.4 percent) had two or more falls during the year after the sleep assessments," Stone said. However, the risk of having two or more falls was higher in women who slept five hours or less per night.
Dr Stone proposes that randomized trials of new medications should account for the effects of insomnia. Moreover, "comprehensive and objective measures of sleep should examine the interrelationships between specific sleep characteristics (e.g., sleep-related breathing disorder, hypoxia and measures of sleep duration and fragmentation) to determine if these disorders contribute independently toward the risk of falls."
The National Sleep Foundation has reported on a survey in which 60 percent of women polled complained of getting insufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation is linked to obesity and greater vulnerability to heart disease and diabetes. Falling, along with other health concerns are evident in women rather then men. It is assumed that the hormone testosterone may provide a level of protection in men than women seem to lack.