Prevalence of Insomnia Among Older Adults

Research shows that many older adults report difficulties with sleeping, but it is often unclear whether these difficulties result from primary insomnia (PI, or insomnia that does not result from a medical disorder or environmental disturbance); from other medical or psychological disorders; or from contextual factors. A forthcoming article in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry presents findings on the prevalence of PI and related sleep disorders in an older adult population in Spain.

Physiological changes in circadian rhythm and changes in patterns of daily life are common with aging, but do not normally lead to insomnia or related sleep disorders. However, previous research suggests that PI and other sleep disorders are underdiagnosed and undertreated among older adults. A better estimate of the prevalence of PI and other sleep disorders may be useful for physicians, psychiatrists, and other clinicians who deal with sleep disorders and their consequences.

The study included 951 randomly selected participants age 65 or better, living in southwest Spain. Participants took part in two interviews at nearby health clinics. Information on sleep patterns, health problems, and demographic status were collected by nursing staff in one interview, and the second interview was administered by psychiatrists and was focused on diagnosing PI or other sleep disorders. Because PI can appear similar to other sleep disorders, it was important to distinguish the various possible causes of any sleep problems through the psychiatric interview. Participants who were not cognitively able to complete the interviews were excluded from the study.

The study found that PI and other sleep disorders were common in this older adult population, with 36.1 percent of participants reporting sleep problems. PI and a distinct but similar disorder, sleep disorder related to another mental disorder (SDMD), were each present in about nine percent of the sample. Sleep disorder due to a general medical condition (SDMC) was present in seven percent of the population. All three forms of insomnia were more frequent among women, individuals who use psychotropic drugs, individuals with four or more health problems, and those who are unmarried.


López-Torres Hidalgo J, Navarro Bravo B, Párraga Martínez I, et al (2012). Understanding insomnia in older adults. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry, epub ahead of print.


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