Assumption that Senior Citizens Do Not Sleep Well
Appears to be Myth
Most seniors have sleep habits very similar to
those of young adults, study finds
Nov. 19, 2012 – Senior citizens often complain of
sleeping difficulties. So much so that most assume there is a connection
between old age and sleeping problems. It is not so, says a new study.
Most people aged 65 and older report sleeping at least 7.5 hours per
night, and between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. as they should.
The commonly held assumptions are that most elderly
go to bed early and have trouble sleeping through the night, say
researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Sleep and Chronobiology
Center (SCC) and University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR).
Their new study, supported by a grant from the
National Institute on Aging, was conducted over five years and is among
the first to provide empirical self-report data on the timing, quality
and duration of sleep, as well as levels of daytime sleepiness in a
large sample of retired older adults.
"Our findings suggest that in matters regarding
sleep and sleepiness, as in many other aspects of life, most seniors
today are doing better than is generally thought," said Timothy H. Monk,
Ph.D., D.Sc., the study's lead author and professor of psychiatry at
UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
"The stereotype of most seniors going to bed at 8
p.m., sleeping very lightly and being unduly sleepy during the day may
be quite inaccurate, suggesting that 60 really is the new 40."
Researchers based the study, published in the
journal Healthy Aging and Clinical Care in the Elderly, on extensive
telephone interviews with nearly 1,200 retired seniors in western
Pennsylvania. About 25 percent said they slept less than 6.7 hours per
night and experienced problems with nocturnal sleep and daytime
sleepiness. The remaining 75 percent reported sleeping more than 6.75
hours, on average.
According to the authors, past studies have
highlighted the chronic sleep disruption often experienced by older
adults, but few of these prior reviews were supported by strong
empirical data and many concentrated on illness, thereby furthering
stereotypical beliefs that older adults sleep for shorter periods of
time, go to bed and rise very early, and experience daytime sleepiness.
Additional observations include:
● Age-related sleep issues in seniors may depend
largely on the health of the individual, rather than on the age of that
● Most seniors do not have reliably earlier
bedtimes than younger adults and report obtaining at least 7.5 hours of
sleep per night
● Daytime sleepiness in seniors often can be
associated with medications, illnesses and poor nocturnal sleep, and may
not be necessarily associated with age
"The take-away for older adults is that if you can
keep yourself healthy and avoid or treat age-related diseases and
disorders, then you'll be able to sleep like a younger adult," added Dr.
Monk. "Although some seniors do have huge sleep problems which need to
be understood and treated, the majority of seniors are not reporting
significant problems with either nocturnal sleep or daytime sleepiness."
Dr. Monk currently is leading another study called
the AgeWise program funded by the National Institute on Aging which is
studying various aspects of sleep in seniors in the laboratory. The
AgeWise program is looking for volunteers in the greater Pittsburgh area
and can be reached toll-free at 1-866-647-8283.
About the University of Pittsburgh School of
As one of the nation's leading academic centers for
biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range
of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new
knowledge and improve the human condition. For more information about
the School of Medicine, see
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