The Elderly and Sleep

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • A recent joint study from Elizabeth Klerman of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard Medical School states that the elderly don't need as much sleep as the general population. Sure, there are lifestyle and medical reasons why the elderly have trouble sleeping, but the real answer lies in changes in the circadian rhythm and REM sleep.


    But, even with the results of the study, everybody needs sleep, and the elderly are no exception. In fact, a recent study by the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows that poor sleep and sleep deprivation in older adults can lead to earlier death.

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    Mary Amanda Dew, Ph.D., who headed up the study, says that sleep disturbances can have a very serious affect on elder health. Dew goes on to say: "Interventions that optimize or protect sleep and sleep quality in old age might not only add quality of life but prolong life as well."

    The long-range study that dates back to February 1997 and involved 185 healthy older adults showed that of the original 185, 66 of the research subjects were deceased. Original tests measured EEG sleep assessments. On review, those results suggested that those with specific EEG sleep characteristics have an excess risk of dying beyond that inherent with age, gender or medical problems. Those with low percentages of REM sleep were at the greatest risk.


    If you are elderly, or if you have elderly family or friends, do everything you can to assure you, or they, are getting adequate sleep. Make sure the bed is comfortable and gives proper support. Reduce stress levels if you can. Exercise, at whatever level is possible, is a help.


    One of the biggest causes of sleep loss in the elderly is sleep disorders. Sleep apnea not only causes sleep loss, but also puts a strain on the heart and can cause high blood pressure and stroke. Insomnia is frustrating and really problematic. Even excess snoring can rob a person of sleep.


    If there is any indication of a sleep disorder, see a doctor about having a sleep study done. If stress or insomnia is a problem, ask your doctor for medication or other suggestions.


    Keep the life of the elderly interesting. Take them on outings, visit often, phone just to chat. If you are elderly, get out as much as you can. Join seniors' groups, visit family or neighbors. You'll discover sleep is easier to come by if you keep an active lifestyle.

Published On: August 18, 2008