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Sleep & Aging

- Summary
- About sleep & aging
- Potential causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Treatment and prevention
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.


Older people often have problems related to sleep. They may have difficulty falling asleep, and are more likely to sleep less deeply and to awaken frequently at night. Mental and physical illnesses are often responsible for sleep problems among the elderly.

Older adults who experience reduced sleep quality are more likely to be irritable and to be affected by various conditions, including depression, attention and memory problems, daytime drowsiness and falls at night. Many common medical conditions including diabetes and cardiac disease are also associated with impaired sleep. In addition, older adults are more likely to use over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills, which sometimes cDepression comes in many forms, from mild sadness to a mood disorders such as major depression.ause various health effects.

Some older adults have sleep problems that are significant enough to be diagnosed as sleep disorders. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the most common sleep disorders include:


  • Insomnia. Nearly half of all adults age 60 and older experience some form of insomnia.

  • Sleep apnea and other breathing problems.

  • Movement disorders. Older adults are more vulnerable to movement disorders such as restless leg syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).

Several factors are believed to be responsible for the difficulties that older people often encounter when trying to sleep. These include physical changes, increased sensitivity to noise, emotional and physical illness, changes in sleep cycles or the use of certain medications.

Older people often attribute sleep difficulties to the aging process and may not realize that the symptoms are actually the result of an illness or condition, such as a sleep disorder. However, sleep disorders can also cause or exacerbate both physical and psychological disorders. Patients are encouraged to consult a physician if they notice a change in sleeping patterns or if they become tired during the day. Various tests are available to help diagnose the nature of sleep difficulties.

Maintaining optimal health is crucial to ensuring sleep quality among older people. Studies have found that older people in good health are more likely to report good sleeping habits than those with significant health issues. In addition, older people who maintain a positive attitude, exercise regularly, are actively engaged in the community and have a good support network are less likely to report sleep problems.

Several lifestyle changes can help older people to sleep better. In some cases, medications may be recommended to help improve sleep.

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Review Date: 02-03-2007

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