Identification and treatment of sleep problems in the elderly

Sleep Med Rev. 1997 Nov;1(1):3-17. doi: 10.1016/s1087-0792(97)90002-2.


For many adults, changes in sleep occur with aging. An estimated 15 million elderly, or 50% of older Americans, experience some sleep problem. The elderly complain that their sleep is more fragmented and that as they have gotten older, they experience more daytime sleepiness. Laboratory studies have confirmed these complaints. Research has shown that it is not the need for sleep that decreases with age, but rather the ability to sleep. Circadian rhythm disturbances, sleep disorders such as sleep disordered breathing and periodic movements in sleep, medical illness, medication use, and impaired cognitive functioning all contribute to poor sleep and decreased daytime alertness. In institutionalized elderly, sleep is even more disturbed and disrupted. With careful assessment, many of these problems can be addressed and treated, and sometimes cured.