New Study on Sleep and the Elderly

senior womanOld people are known to be light sleepers. Many seniors report that they are not sleeping as well as before. Why then are most of them not getting the right amount of sleep? Some of the common answers is bad bedtime habits such as drinking too much coffee or caffeinated beverages or watching movies late at night before going to bed. Other ones would be blamed on dependence on sleep medications, poor health and disturbed circadian rhythms.

In a new study conducted, researchers found that the elderly needed less sleep on average than younger adults. While some seniors suffer from insomnia, others may think they have insomnia but just need less sleep than they did when they were younger.


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The new study conducted by Elizabeth Klerman of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School aimed to find out more about some of the factors that could be causing less sleep and chronic insomnia in most elderly people. Old people are known to be light sleepers. Many seniors report that they are not sleeping as well as before. Some of the common answers is bad bedtime habits such as drinking too much coffee or caffeinated beverages or watching movies late at night before going to bed. Other ones would be blamed on dependence on sleep medications, poor health and disturbed circadian rhythms.

She did a controlled study on 18 older subjects who are 60-76 years old and 35 younger subjects who are 18-32 years old. All of the subjects who participated in the study were all healthy and were not on any medications that may affect their sleeping patterns. The study was only done to people who have not crossed more than one time zone in the past 3 months and those who have not worked on night shifts in three years.

The subjects were monitored closely while they sleep in their homes, and were told to close their eyes, lie quietly in bed and try to sleep for as much as 16 hours a day for several consecutive days.

The sleep study garnered the following results:

Older people often report that they are getting less sleep. This, however, does not mean that they are definitely sleeping less than their body requires. According to Dr. Klerman, insomnia is more prevalent amongst the elderly.

However, there are also seniors who think that they should sleep 8 or 9 hours each day, when their bodies do not require it. These seniors may fear that they have insomnia, and start taking extra medications. In addition, Dr. Klerman said, “It’s also possible that older people sleep less even when given the opportunity for more sleep because of age-related changes in the ability to fall asleep and remain asleep.”

During the study, younger subjects were able to sleep for longer periods. This suggests that they were not able to get enough sleep than they would normally need before. Having insufficient sleep predisposes people to make more mistakes, become forgetful and less focused. Thereby, increasing the risk for accidents.

Increased sleep improved the subjects’ awareness. They became more alert and performed better during the day.

Overall, the study concludes that older people needed almost 1.5 hours less of sleep compared to younger people (7.5 hours vs 9 hours).

Reference:

LiveScience

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