Healthy older people sleep better, both experts said. They don't necessarily nap more, and dozing off at the opera or movies is by no means a given.
In his own research, Vitiello said, "we looked at napping in older adults -- but not as large a sample, and found that, like sleep complaints, napping is driven by illness burden. If an older person complains [of sleep problems], something's going on and it needs to be dealt with. A physician shouldn't say, 'OK, you're old.' "
Treatment could include referring a patient to a sleep clinic or to a psychiatrist, Vitiello said. And Grandner said patients have been helped by combinations of psychotherapy and relaxation therapy.
Because of the nature of the study -- a "cross-sectional" survey -- the authors said they can't conclude that a cause-and-effect relationship exists between aging and sleep.
Vitiello did point out some methodology issues with the survey, such as an overall response rate of only 40 percent. And, because the study was landline based -- no cellphones -- he added that could affect participation rates among different age groups.
"The common knowledge is that sleep deteriorates with age," Grandner said. And, he added, many sleep-lab studies have shown "certain aspects of sleep get worse as you get older. Older people tend to take longer to fall asleep, they have more awakenings. A lot of the restorative and healing functions of sleep tend to happen less in older people.
"However, what we found [in the study] was that even if their sleep objectively might be worse, their experience of their sleep is better," he said. Part of the explanation may be that older people have other health problems that leave sleep issues lower on t
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