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Sleep apnea and other causes of impaired sleep in older adults

Steven H Feinsilver, MD
Section Editors
Kenneth E Schmader, MD
Nancy Collop, MD
Deputy Editor
Geraldine Finlay, MD


Sleep-related complaints are common among older adults (ie, adults >65 years old). It is often difficult to distinguish whether the impaired sleep that leads to such complaints is a consequence of normal aging or a disease process, such as a primary sleep disorder or a medical illness [1,2]. The causes of impaired sleep in older adults are reviewed here, with a focus on sleep apnea.


Sleep-related changes are a normal consequence of aging (table 1):

Phase advance – Sleep during the early morning hours is reduced and peak sleepiness occurs earlier in the evening [2,3].

Sleep efficiency – The ratio of time asleep to time in bed declines, largely due to more nocturnal awakenings [4].

Sleep time – Total time spent asleep decreases, although the reduction in nocturnal sleep may be partially compensated by increased daytime napping [4].

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 21, 2017.
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