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Older people may need less sleep

July 24, 2008

Brigham and Women's Hospital Press Release: New study in the journal Current Biology finds that older people may need less sleep because of age-related changes.

BOSTON, MA. – It has long been known that aging is associated with a reduced capacity for sleep. Now, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have shown that when older people are asked to stay in bed during 16 hours of darkness, they sleep only about 7.5 hours compared to the 9 hours that younger people sleep when in the same situation.

"These results have two possible interpretations," said Elizabeth Klerman, MD, PhD, a physician and researcher in the Division of Sleep Medicine at BWH. "Older people may need less sleep or they may sleep less because of age-related changes in the ability to fall asleep and remain asleep."

Klerman and her colleague, Dr. Derk-Jan Dijk of the University of Surrey in the UK, evaluated the capacity for sleep in young people, between the ages of 18 and 32, compared to older people, aged 60 to 72, by monitoring healthy individuals taking no medication and having no medical conditions or sleep disorders during extended sleep opportunities. After spending several days during which they were required to stay in bed for 16 hrs/day, older people slept on average 1.5 hours less than younger people. These findings may influence clinical treatment in older people, as insomnia - being awake when wanting to be asleep - is a frequent complaint in older age groups.

Related Links
HealthDay news coverage: Sleep needs may decline with age
Live Science news coverage: Elderly Don't Need As Much Sleep, Study Finds
Voice of America interview with Dr. Klerman (download audio, or scroll down page for transcript)
Link to Current Biology
Link to Harvard's Healthy Sleep website

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