Getting adequate sleep is a very common recommendation for achieving and maintaining good health. Insufficient sleep has been linked to a variety of chronic diseases (such as diabetes and heart disease) as well as unintentional injuries (such as motor vehicle accidents and workplace injuries). Poor sleep quality can also contribute to other issues that affect quality of life such as irritability, depressive symptoms, and inability to focus and stay on task.
The global adult population in general experiences a high prevalence of insufficient sleep, with some variation in terms of age, gender, and socioeconomic status. Among the elderly, however, the prevalence and subsequent effects can be especially pronounced. While it is not clear if this increase in prevalence of disrupted sleep and sleep disorders is due to aging itself or co-morbid conditions associated with aging (i.e, chronic pain, dementia), it is important to consider the impact such conditions have on the elderly.
It has been noted that common sleep disruptions among the elderly include trouble falling asleep, snoring, sleep apnea, insufficient time spent in deep sleep, rising early, and achieving fewer hours of sleep each night. The implications for sleep disruptions within this demographic can include a 2 to 3 times increased risk of stroke and mortality.
In considering the impact of sleep disorders among the elderly in the Americas, a study conducted in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Venezuela and Mexico found that 23-31% of older adults aged 65 to 80+ years experienced sleep disruptions. The prevalence appeared higher among women than men. In comparison to previous studies, it was found that among individuals aged 40 and older in Uruguay, Chile, and Venezuela, 34.7% reported trouble falling asleep. Previous findings have also included reports that 25% of individuals aged 18-77 years old in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City reported being moderately or severely impacted by sleep problems, with severity increasing with age.
To address sleep disruption among the elderly, it is important that health care providers, community support systems, and social support systems work with the aged to ensure they are experiencing the best quality of life possible. This includes working with the elderly to achieve optimal sleep.
Diana Kingsbury is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at the Kent State University College of Public Health.