Background: To examine the sleep habits and one-year prevalence of sleep disturbance (difficulty in falling asleep, broken sleep and early morning wakening) as well as insomnia (subjectively inadequate or poor sleep) in an elderly Chinese population in Hong Kong.
Method: In Phase 1, a representative sample of elderly aged 70 years or above were interviewed with a sleep questionnaire, and Cantonese versions of the Mini-Mental State Examination (CMMSE) and Geriatric Depression Scale(CGDS). In Phase 2, those with scores suggestive of cognitive impairment on CMMSE or depression on CGDS were interviewed by psychiatrists for making clinical diagnoses according to DSM IV.
Results: 1,034 elderly were interviewed in Phase 1. Occasional or persistent sleep disturbance were reported by 75% and insomnia in 38.2% of elderly. Slightly less than half of elderly with sleep disturbance complained of insomnia. Advancing age was associated with a higher rate of sleep disturbance while females had a higher rate of insomnia. Factors associated with sleep disturbance and insomnia included poor perceived health, past history of smoking, current depressive disorders, more chronic physical illness, more life events and more somatic complaints. Only 2.8% of the sample had taken sleeping pills within a one-year period.
Conclusions: Sleep disturbance and insomnia are two separate but overlapping constructs and should be differentiated. Sleep disturbance is very common in the elderly and may be due to physiological changes with ageing. In contrast, those with a concommitant complaint of insomnia have impaired physical and mental health and may merit more medical attention.