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Sleep disorders in the elderly


Symptoms:
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty telling the difference between night and day
  • Early morning awakening
  • Waking up often during the night
Treatment:

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 place and drinking a glass of warm milk before bed may improve the symptoms. Other ways to promote sleep include following these healthy lifestyle tips:

  • Avoid large meals shortly before bedtime.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine.
  • Get regular exercise early in the day.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. (Don't take naps.)
  • Use the bed only for sleep or sexual activity.

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 correctly. Your health care provider should assess your risks of daytime sleepiness, mental (cognitive) side effects, and falls before you begin taking sleep medications.

  • If you need sleeping pills, Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, and Rozerem can be safe when used properly.
  • It is best to NOT take sleeping pills several days in a row or for more than 2 - 4 days a week.
  • Alcohol can make the side effects of all sleeping pills worse and should be avoided.

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 doctor about these risks.

Expectations (prognosis):

For most people, sleep improves with treatment. However, others may continue to have sleep disruptions.

Complications:
  • Alcohol use
  • Drug abuse
Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if a lack of sleep or too much sleep is interfering with daily living.

Prevention:

Avoiding as many causes of sleep disruption as possible and getting regular exercise may help control sleep problems.

References:

Juergens TM, Barczi SR. Sleep. In: Duthie EH, Katz PR, Malone ML, eds. Practice of Geriatrics. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 22.

Mahowald MW. Disorders of sleep. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 429.

Neikrug AB, Ancoli-Israel S. Sleep disorders in the older adult - a mini-review. Gerontology. 2010;56(2):181-9.


Review Date: 12/10/2012
Reviewed By: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine UMDNJ-NJMS, Attending Physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Veteran Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician 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. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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