Why the Elderly are Prone to Sleep Disorders

07/09/2014

Sleep disorders can occur at any age. However, elderly are more prone to develop such disorders due to their age. There is not a single reason that can be pinpointed. In fact, there are a couple of reasons that lead to sleeping disorder development during the latter stages of one’s life. Even though most elderly people are at a risk of developing disorders related to sleep, there is an even greater risk for those who have an existing mental condition. The most common mental condition linked with sleep disorder risks is Alzheimer’s.

A study was conducted by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to learn about the effects of age on sleep pattern. As a person ages, the neurons in the brain get disrupted. These inhibitory neurons are responsible for maintaining an individual’s sleep patterns. But once they get disrupted, the sleep patterns get disturbed and it results in sleep disorders.

The research showed that when people reach the age of 70, they tend to sleep less. An elderly individual tends to sleep one hour less than an individual who is in his early to late 20s. This is, at times, due to age, but generally this issue arises because of health conditions. Common health conditions that contribute to sleep deprivation include cardiac issues and diabetes. As an individual ages and develops these disorders, the neurons are disrupted.

Several trials on animals were also conducted to authenticate these results. The animals that were used in trials displayed signs of sleep disorders. At an average, the animals slept about 50% less than they normally did. Not only do prevailing conditions cause insomnia, but it can also be the other way around. The inhibitory neurons are disrupted with age as well. Even if the individual does not have a condition, they may develop one due to sleep deprivation.

During the same study, researchers looked into the intermediate nucleus in the brain. This nucleus in the brain contains inhibitory neurons. These neurotransmitters are called galanin. These neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating sleep. To see if the neurotransmitters were actually responsible for sleep disorders in elderly, results from a 1997 study were also considered.

This study was called Rush Memory and Aging Project and it involved monitoring 1,000 subjects. These subjects were monitored from the age of 65 onwards until they died. Once done, their brain was donated for the study. This is how researchers came to the conclusion that the inhibitory neurotransmitters are responsible for insomnia in adults.

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