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Older Adults May Need Less Sleep

Healthy aging appears to be associated with reductions in the sleep duration and depth required to maintain daytime alertness.

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Rest for the mind and body can elude seniors as they age. That's because several issues of aging such as illness and increased medication use can contribute to interrupted sleep. Caregiving companionship is one antidote to address the apprehension that sometimes plagues seniors who can't sleep at night.

Q. I've noticed that I'm sleeping less the older I get. Is this normal? Since my wife died, I sometimes get a little fearful when I awaken at night. Is there anything I can do about that?

It appears that your nighttime habits are typical. A study from researchers at the University of Surrey in the U.K. and published in the journal SLEEP found that older adults slept about 20 minutes less than middle-aged adults, who slept 23 minutes less than young adults.

What's more, healthy senior citizens without sleep disorders can expect to have a reduced "sleep need" and to be less sleepy during the day than healthy young adults, researchers said. So healthy aging appears to be associated with reductions in the sleep duration and depth required to maintain daytime alertness.

"Our findings reaffirm the theory that it is not normal for older people to be sleepy during the daytime," said principal investigator Derk-Jan Dijk, Ph.D., professor of sleep and physiology at the University of Surrey in the U.K.

Conditions of aging also impact whether or not seniors get a good night's sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 24 percent of seniors ages 65-84 have been diagnosed with four or more medical conditions. Of this group, 80 percent reported having a sleep problem.

Dr. Sonia Ancoli-Israel, professor of psychiatry and director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at the University of California at San Diego, says it's not necessarily the aging process that disturbs sleep, but those changes that accompany getting older. "In addition to those medical illnesses and medications common in older adults, there can be psychiatric problems and changes in circadian rhythms."

Circadian rhythms are body rhythms that help determine when we sleep, and they become imbalanced as we age, according to Ancoli-Israel.

Because of all these issues, seniors can become frightened at night. If you are apprehensive at night, why not consider the services of a professional caregiving company. Home Instead® hires CAREGiversSM – both men and women – to provide companionship services 24/7 including holidays. CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured, and have completed thorough background checks.

For more about the U.K. seniors and sleep study, visit

Last revised: May 21, 2011

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