Insomnia in Later Life

By Gregory A. Hinrichsen, Ph.D.
Dept. of Geriatrics, Icahn School of Medicine

Have problems falling asleep at night? Join the 30% of people 65 years and older who also have insomnia. Insomnia is defined as problems with falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking up earlier than you want. While almost everyone has some poor nights of sleep, insomnia lasts for months or even years. One woman once told me that her insomnia started as a child when she was living in London during the “blitz” when the Germans regularly bombed London. Scientists have found that insomnia is not good for the body, brain, or the mood. Younger as well as older people with insomnia don’t think as clearly or those who get a good night’s sleep. While sleep medication (whether prescribed by the doctor or “over the counter, ” that is, purchased at the drug store) can be helpful if used for a few days or weeks, these medications can become a problem if used for long periods of time. For example, long-term use of sleep medications can increase risk for falls. Effective “behavioral” treatments for insomnia exist that don’t involve use of drugs. General advice if you have insomnia: Have a regular time to go to bed, get up at the same time every day, don’t take naps later in the afternoon or evening, don’t drink alcohol in the evening, and sleep in a bedroom that is preferably quiet, cool, and dark. Oh, that woman who developed insomnia as a kid in London? After treatment with a behavioral therapy for insomnia, her sleep was much improved and stayed improved.

Through a UJA funded grant, a Mount Sinai Beth Israel Geriatrician and Geriatric psychologist will be working with PSPS on issues related to memory and aging.


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