Expert Commentary

Sleep Disorders in the Older Adult: A Mini-Review

Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD

Professor of Psychiatry
University of California, San Diego
School of Medicine
Co-director of the UCSD Laboratory for Sleep and Chronobiology Research Center
San Diego, California

Approximately 50% of older adults complain of difficulty sleeping. Poor sleep results in increased risk of significant morbidity and mortality. The decrements seen in the sleep of the older adult are often due to a decrease in the ability to get needed sleep. However, the decreased ability is less a function of age and more a function of other factors that accompany aging, such as medical and psychiatric illness, increased medication use, advances in the endogenous circadian clock and a higher prevalence of specific sleep disorders. Given the large number of older adults with sleep complaints and sleep disorders, there is a need for health care professionals to have an increased awareness of these sleep disturbances to better enable them to assess and treat these patients. A thorough sleep history (preferably in the presence of their bed partner) is required for a proper diagnosis, and when appropriate, an overnight sleep recording should be done. Treatment of primary sleep problems can improve the quality of life and daytime functioning of older adults. This paper reviews the diagnoses and characteristics of sleep disorders generally found in the older adult. While aimed at the practicing geriatrician, this paper is also of importance for any gerontologist interested in sleep.

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