Doctors Neglect Insomnia in Older Patients

For some, sleep does not come easily
in older age; © Hemera

That's the finding of new research from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. When patients 60 years and older visited their primary care doctors, physicians did not note sleep problems in the patients' charts. This was significant because independent social workers, who interviewed those same patients after their doctors' visits, learned that 70 percent of them had at least one sleep complaint and 45 percent said they had "difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or being able to sleep." Previous research has linked sleep disorders in the elderly to poorer mental and physical health and quality of life.

Some changes in sleep - such as reduction in slow wave or deep sleep starting at about age 40 - are natural as we age. But insomnia is not. "Now, a lot of studies show that not getting enough sleep can lower your metabolic function, be associated with cardiovascular problems, cancer and breast cancer in women and increase our mortality. Sleep deprivation also increases your sensitivity to pain. If you have a problem with depression, one of the criteria is a change in sleep," said Kathryn Reid, Ph.D., lead author on the study and research assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

She acknowledges science doesn't know what comes first - the sleep problems that can cause health problems or the health difficulties that disrupt sleep. But treating the sleep disorders results in improved health and quality of life, Reid noted. Some options include meditation, exercise, and bright light or evening activity to push back circadian rhythm for people who wake up too early.

Researchers found excessive daytime sleepiness was the best predictor of poor physical and mental health. Simply asking a patient, "Do you feel sleepy during the day?" will clue doctors whether to pursue further questioning about sleep in a patient.

MEDICA.de; Source: Northwestern University