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Elderly More Likely to Battle Sleep Disorders

Meds they take, changes in biological clock put many at risk for serious disease

SUNDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Many older adults don't get enough sleep, which can increase the risk of serious health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

While sleep patterns do change as people age, disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day aren't a normal part of aging.

"As we get older, the amount of nightly sleep that we need remains the same as that of what we needed when we were younger. However the ability to get the sleep that we need does change. Older people have a hard time getting the sleep they need because of the interference of medical illness, the medications they take for those illnesses, and changes in their biological clock," Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine and director of the sleep disorders clinic at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, said in a prepared statement.

Ancoli-Israel, who is also co-director of the Laboratory for Sleep and Chronobiology at the UCSD General Clinic Research Center, cited a number of common sleep disorders in the elderly:

  • Insomnia affects almost half of adults aged 60 and older.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects almost 40 percent of adults, and is more common among older adults. OSA can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cognitive problems.
  • Restless legs syndrome, which affects more than 20 percent of people aged 80 and older, includes uncomfortable feelings in the legs, such as tingling, or pins and needles.
  • Periodic limb movements cause people to jerk and kick their legs every 20 to 40 seconds during sleep. One study found that about 40 percent of older adults have a least a mild form of this condition.

Older adults who don't get enough sleep are more likely to feel depressed, have attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls, and to use more over-the-counter or prescription sleep medications.

In order to get a better night's sleep, older adults should:

  • Establish a routine sleep schedule.
  • Avoid using the bed for activities other than sleep or intimacy.
  • Avoid substances that disturb sleep, such as caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid napping during the day. If you have to nap, limit it to less than one hour and do it no later than 3 p.m.
  • Develop pre-sleep rituals that help you relax, such as a warm bath, a light snack or a few minutes of reading.
  • Leave worries behind. Bedtime is a time to relax, not replay the stresses of the day.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and a little cool.
  • If you can't fall asleep, leave the bedroom and do a quiet activity. Go back to bed only when you're tired.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about sleep and aging.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release, April 2008

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