Sleep disorders in older adults
Sleep disorders in older adults involve any disrupted sleep pattern. This can include problems falling or staying asleep, too much sleep, or abnormal behaviors with sleep.
Insomnia - older adults
Sleep problems are common in older adults. The amount of sleep needed stays constant throughout the adult years. Doctors recommend that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. In older adults, sleep is less deep and choppier than sleep in younger people.
A healthy 70-year-old may wake up several times during the night without it being due to disease.
Sleep disturbances in older adults may be due to any of the following:
Symptoms that may occur include:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will take a history and perform a physical exam to look for medical causes and determine which type of sleep disorder is causing the problem.
Relieving chronic pain and controlling medical conditions such as frequent urination may improve sleep in some people. Treating depression can also improve sleep.
Sleeping in a quiet room that isn't too hot or too cold and having a relaxing bedtime routine may help improve symptoms. Other ways to promote sleep include these healthy lifestyle tips:
If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity such as reading or listening to music.
Avoid using sleeping pills to help you sleep, if possible. They can lead to dependence and can make sleep problems worse over time if you don't use them the right way. Your provider should assess your risks of daytime sleepiness, mental (cognitive) side effects, and falls before you begin taking sleep medicines.
WARNING: The FDA has asked manufacturers of certain sleep medicines to put stronger warning labels on their products so that consumers are more aware of the potential risks. Possible risks while taking such medicines include severe allergic reactions and dangerous sleep-related behaviors, including sleep-driving. Ask your provider about these risks.
For most people, sleep improves with treatment. However, others may continue to have sleep disruptions.
Possible complications are:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your provider if a lack of sleep or too much sleep is interfering with daily living.
Getting regular exercise and avoiding as many causes of sleep disruption as possible and adequate exposure to natural light may help control sleep problems.
NIH Senior Health. Sleep and aging. Updated December 2012. nihseniorhealth.gov/sleepandaging/aboutsleep/01.html. Accessed October 14, 2016.
Shochat T, Ancoli-Israel S. Insomnia in older adults. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 153.
Sterniczuk R, Rusak B. Sleep in relation to aging, frailty, and cognition. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Young J, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 108.
Review Date: 8/22/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.