Late-life insomnia

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I was interested to read the Feb. 10 report on the incidence of sleep-related problems as found in a recent Consumer Reports poll ("Sleep Issues Common, Poll Finds"). Like many in the sleep research community I am pleased that attention has now started to focus on this important societal problem, which has until recently tended to be neglected.

Also, I am pleased that Consumer Reports favors non-drug treatments for insomnia. These behavioral treatments have been shown to be just as effective as sleeping pills, and much longer-lived in their usefulness.

I would also emphasize that the problems reported by Consumer Reports are even more widespread in older adults. In a recent telephone survey of more than 1,100 retired seniors in the Greater Pittsburgh area, we have found that while many older adults sleep well, at least 25 percent report significant problems, causing them major distress.

At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center we are engaged in a program of research (the AgeWise Program) that aims to tease out the roles of biological clock and sleep intensity changes, stress and stress reactivity, functional brain anatomy and genetics, in the development and treatment of late-life insomnia. We seek to find out how these variables differ between older adults with versus without insomnia and also how these variables change in the latter group when their insomnia is improved using behavioral techniques.

With so many people, both old and young, impacted by insomnia in both their sleeping and waking lives (and, indeed, their overall health), such an understanding may reap considerable benefits to our society. The AgeWise program can be reached at 866-647-8283.

Principal Investigator
AgeWise Research Program

The writer is professor of psychiatry and director of the Human Chronobiology Research Program at the University of Pittsburgh.



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