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Sleep Problems Plague the Older Set
Date:11/23/2007

But they don't have to be an inherent part of aging, experts say

FRIDAY, Nov. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Older Americans often have difficulty getting a good night's rest. It's a huge quality-of-life problem, experts say, because contrary to popular belief, seniors require about the same amount of sleep as younger adults.

"Sleep problems and sleep disorders are not an inherent part of aging," said Dr. Harrison G. Bloom, a senior associate at the International Longevity Center-USA and associate clinical professor of geriatrics and medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "It's pretty much of a myth that older people need less sleep than younger people."

Yet, in a study published recently in The American Journal of Medicine, researchers found that more than half of older Americans have problems getting the shuteye they need.

Older people tend to have "sleep fragmentation," meaning they wake up more often during the night, said study author Dr. Julie Gammack, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at St. Louis University.

They also seem to get less "REM" sleep, the type of sleep during which rapid eye movement occurs, Bloom added.

It's unclear what role these naturally occurring changes in sleep patterns have on a person's quality of life, Bloom said. "What is important, though, is that older people often have actual sleep disorders and problems with sleep," he said.

And, experts say, there is usually more than one cause.

"Sleep disturbance in older adults is typically associated with acute and chronic illnesses, including specific sleep disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome that appear with greater frequency in older populations," said Michael V. Vitiello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate director of the University of Washington's Northwest Geriatric Education Cent
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