Prevalence of insomnia in elderly general practice attenders and the current treatment modalities

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1994 Aug;90(2):102-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1994.tb01563.x.


This study aimed to assess the prevalence and treatment modalities of elderly practice attenders. A total of 330 patients aged over 65 years were investigated with a questionnaire in general practice. To assess insomnia, operationalized diagnostic criteria according to DSM-III-R were applied. Twenty-three percent of the elderly patients suffered from severe, 17% from moderate and 17% from mild insomnia. More than 80% of the patients reported suffering from insomnia for 1-5 years or longer, which indicates a chronic course. Elderly patients showed unrealistic expectations concerning duration of sleep and spend more time in bed than they realistically can expect to sleep. More than half of the elderly patients reported habitual daytime napping. Sleep-disturbed elderly patients did not differ significantly from good sleepers in their habit of taking daytime naps, but even when taking daytime naps, good sleepers slept significantly longer than the sleep-disturbed patients. A significant association was found between insomnia and mental disorders, i.e., depression and organic brain syndrome according to the diagnosis of the general physician. In about half of the cases the primary care physician was not aware that the elderly patient suffered from severe insomnia. More than half of the elderly severe insomniacs took prescribed hypnotics habitually, mainly benzodiazepines.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Circadian Rhythm / drug effects
  • Drug Utilization
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / adverse effects
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / drug therapy
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Stages / drug effects


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Benzodiazepines