About Sleep Deprivation in Seniors

Getting older and losing sleep? Learn more about causes and remedies for a good night's rest

Sleep deprivation in seniors isn't just defined as an inability to fall asleep. It can also include reduced time spent in deep-sleep stages, reduced total sleeping time and abnormally early wake times. Sleep deprivation in all forms is quite common among seniors: A National Institute of Aging study in 1995 found that over 50 percent of men and women aged 65 and older complain of at least one chronic sleep issue.


Sleep deprivation is simply defined as the lack of adequate sleep, and it can be due to any number of factors. The causes of sleep deprivation in seniors can sometimes be complex. If you sleep for a good chunk of time every night, but still feel unrested, the underlying problem may be sleep apnea or an abnormal heart rhythm. While you might not remember waking up in the night, these kinds of problems can disrupt your sleep at frequent intervals, precluding you from getting restorative REM sleep. Sleep apnea is often characterized by excessive snoring marked by periods when the snorer’s breathing actually stops for a short time.

Additional causes

Jack Gardner, M.D., of the Sleep Center at Baylor Medical Center notes at WebMD that insomnia is also more common in seniors due to increased anxiety, a higher prevalence of health problems and side-effects of medications taken for other health conditions. Other factors, such as the need to urinate frequently during the night, chronic pain and restless leg syndrome, can also contribute to sleep deprivation. Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with good sleep, as can irregular sleeping patterns.

Effects and risks

Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling irritable and can significantly impair your memory and concentration. In 2009, an article in the Journal of the American Heart Association linked sleep deprivation among the elderly to a 33 percent greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Other studies have linked sleep deprivation to increased risk for diabetes, obesity, stroke and hypertension. Driving while sleep-deprived greatly increases the risk that you'll cause an accident.


Treatment for sleep deprivation varies according to the cause. For sleep apnea, treatment may include use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to keep the airway open during sleep, and/or weight loss. Abnormal heart rhythms may be indicative of larger heart problems and may need to be treated with a pacemaker. Insomnia and restless leg syndrome may be treated with prescription medications. Alternative therapies, such as meditation and sleep pattern realignment, are other options.

Tips for avoiding sleep deprivation

Helpful techniques for avoiding sleep deprivation include getting regular exercise, sticking to set meal times and bedtimes and getting out in the sun. Exposure to daylight is essential for proper regulation of your sleep/wake cycle.

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