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Normal sleep linked to successful aging

WESTCHESTER, Ill. A research abstract that will be presented on Wednesday at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS), finds a link between normal sleep and healthy aging.

The study, authored by Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, of the University of California at San Diego, and colleagues, focused on 2,226 women 60 years of age or older. Reports of use of sleeping aids, daytime somnolence, napping, sleep latency, sleep maintenance insomnia, early morning awakening, snoring, overall perceived sleep quality, and sleep duration were all assessed.

According to the results, 20.8 percent of the women were categorized as successful agers. Items related to less daytime napping and fewer complaints of sleep maintenance insomnia best predicted successful aging. There was no direct relationship between use of sedative-hypnotics and successful aging. Increased severity of sleep disturbance also predicted lower self-rated successful aging and a greater difference between perceived and actual age, and this result again remained significant after controlling for depressive symptom severity.

Our findings that reports of better sleep are related to successful aging reinforce the idea that good sleep is of utmost importance for good health, said Dr. Ancoli-Israel. Health care professionals need to ask their patients of all ages about sleep and help those with poor sleep to find ways for improvement.

Unfortunately, many older adults often get less sleep than they need. One reason is that they often have more trouble falling asleep. A study of adults over 65 found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep.

Also, older people often sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night, which may be why they may nap more often during the daytime. Nighttime sleep schedules may change with age too. Many older adults tend to get sleepier earlier in the evening and awaken earlier in the morning.

Not sleeping well can lead to a number of problems. Older adults who have poor nighttime sleep are more likely to have a depressed mood, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls and use more over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids. In addition, recent studies associate lack of sleep with serious health problems such as an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

While most people require seven to eight hours of sleep a night to perform optimally the next day, older adults might find it harder to obtain the sleep they need. Older adults must be more aware of their sleep and maintain good sleep hygiene by following these tips:

  • Establishing a routine sleep schedule.

  • Avoiding utilizing bed for activities other than sleep or intimacy.

  • Avoiding substances that disturb your sleep, like alcohol or caffeine.

  • Not napping during the day. If you must snooze, limit the time to less than one hour and no later than 3 p.m.

  • Stick to rituals that help you relax each night before bed. This can include such things as a warm bath, a light snack or a few minutes of reading.

  • Dont take your worries to bed. Bedtime is a time to relax, not to hash out the stresses of the day.

  • If you cant fall asleep, leave your bedroom and engage in a quiet activity. Return to bed only when you are tired.

  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and a little cool.

Although sleep patterns change as people age, disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day are not part of normal aging. Those who have trouble sleeping are advised to see a sleep specialist at a facility accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).


Contact: Kathleen McCann
American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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