HEALTHIER AGING: Promoting sound sleep habits in older adults

February 2005 
Volume 35  Number 2
Pages 22 - 25
  PDF Version Available!


  • Sorting out causes

  • Nodding off

  • Prime-time sleep disorders

  • Not-so-deep sleep

  • Roadblocks to sleep, from A to Zzz




  • Figure. No caption a...

    MANY OLDER ADULTS complain of frequently awakening at night or early in the morning, and 12% to 25% of healthy older adults have recurring insomnia. Reasons for sleep disturbances include agerelated changes in sleep patterns (see Not-so-deep sleep ), reactions to medications, chronic illnesses, poor sleeping habits, and primary sleep disorders. (See Roadblocks to sleep, from A to Zzz for more examples.) Here, I'll discuss why many older adults sleep poorly and what you can do to help them get their rest.

    Sorting out causes

    If an older patient complains that he's been having trouble sleeping, investigate further to determine the cause. Besides primary sleep disorders, such factors as frequent nocturnal urination and daytime napping can cut into his nighttime sleep. Ask him what prescription drugs and over-the-counter products he's taking and what time of day he takes them.

    Ask your patient specific questions about his sleep habits and patterns: usual time he goes to bed and gets up in the morning, amount of sleep he gets in a typical night, number of times he wakes up during the night, and the quality of his sleep. Question him about his consumption of chocolate, alcohol, coffee and other beverages containing caffeine, and tobacco because using these substances close to bedtime can disturb sleep.

    Ask him to describe his bedtime routine. With his permission, question his sleep partner about sleep habits she's noticed during the night, such as snoring, twitching, kicking, or thrashing. The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index is a good assessment tool.

    Nodding ...

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