Perception of sleep in the elderly


  • Ståle Pallesen
  • Inger Hilde Nordhus
  • Geir Høstmark Nielsen
















Key Words:



insomnia; older adults; diagnosis; perception of sleepThe results cast doubts about the usefulness of the common criteria (30 minutes sleep

onset latency and wake after sleep onset) used in clinical contexts to diagnose insomnia. Unrealistic

positive expectations about sleep changes with age can lower the threshold for complaining and thus

contribute to dissatisfaction and worry about sleep. Sedative-hypnotic drugs did seem to have limited

benefit for the participants in this study.

For those generally satisfied with their sleep, mean sleep onset latency was 37 minutes and

mean wake after sleep onset was 38 minutes. It was further demonstrated that 59.2% of the sample had

unrealistic positive expectations (did not expect worsening of sleep with age) regarding sleep in old

age. Those using sedative-hypnotic medication (23.3%) were less satisfied with their sleep and felt less

refreshed during the day than non-users. Contrary to most studies, no general gender differences in

perception of sleep was revealed. The only exception was total sleep time where men reported more

sleep than women (6.78 vs. 6.15 hours) per day.

A questionnaire focusing on the subjective experience of sleep was administered to 116 older

(60 years and above) visitors at 4 senior centres in Bergen, Norway.

Discrepancies between objectively and subjectively measured sleep variables make diagnosing

insomnia in the elderly difficult. Also relevant to diagnosing insomnia in the elderly are expectations

about sleep, gender and use of sedative-hypnotic medication. The present study focuses on how

these variables relate to insomnia and sleep satisfaction.



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How to Cite

Pallesen, S., Nordhus, I. H., & Nielsen, G. H. (2009). Perception of sleep in the elderly. Norsk Epidemiologi, 8(2).