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Misconceptions About Sleep Patterns of Older Folks

Posted Feb 01 2013 9:00am

According to a joint study between the University of Pittsburgh's Sleep and Chronobiology Center (SCC) and University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR), there are misconceptions about the sleep patterns and quality of sleep for older adults.
"Our findings suggest that in matters regarding sleep and sleepiness, as in many other aspects of life, most seniors today are doing better than is generally thought," said Timothy H. Monk, Ph.D., D.Sc ., the study's lead author and professor of psychiatry at UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. "The stereotype of most seniors going to bed at 8 p.m., sleeping very lightly and being unduly sleepy during the day may be quite inaccurate, suggesting that 60 really is the new 40."

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging and conducted over five years. It findings come from empirical self-reported data from extensive telephone interviews with nearly 1,200 retired seniors from Western Pennsylvania seniors with an over-representation of retired shift workers. 

Sleep quality and daytime sleepiness levels were within normal limits, although a sizable minority did report problems. Seventy-five percent said they averaged more than 6.75 hours of sleep per night.  The remainder said they slept less and experienced problems with nocturnal sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep-related or daytime drowsiness issues seemed to have more to do with outside influences such as overall health and medications rather than age, the investigators said.

The habitual timing of the sleep episode for this sample appeared to be mostly within the usual 11 pm to 7:30 am range, with about 7.5 hours of actual sleep within that interval being reported. There was, however, a sizable minority who broke this pattern, with 25% of the sample reporting less than 6.7 hours of sleep, and problems with nocturnal sleep and daytime sleepiness.

Researchers recommended that care should be exercised in making assumptions about the quality and timing of nocturnal sleep and the level of daytime sleepiness experienced by most seniors—those 65 years of age or older—which may all be very similar to those of younger adults. It should be recognized that a sizeable minority of seniors do, however, experience problems with nocturnal sleep and daytime sleepiness. 

And then there are my in-laws, Lou and Dolores, in their 80s - Jeopardy at 7. Wheel of Fortune at 7:30. One order of Criminal Minds. In bed by 9.
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