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Curr Biol. 2008 Aug 5;18(15):1118-23. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.047. Epub 2008 Jul 24.

Age-related reduction in the maximal capacity for sleep--implications for insomnia.

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  • 1Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Sleep changes markedly across the life span and complaints about insomnia are prevalent in older people [1]. Whether age-related alterations in sleep are due to modifications in social factors, circadian physiology, homeostatic drive, or the ability to sleep remains unresolved. We assessed habitual sleep duration at home and then quantified daytime sleep propensity, sleep duration, and sleep structure in an inpatient protocol that included extended sleep opportunities covering 2/3 of the circadian cycle (12 hr at night and 4 hr in the afternoon) for 3-7 days in 18 older and 35 younger healthy men and women. At baseline, older subjects had less daytime sleep propensity than did younger subjects. Total daily sleep duration, which was initially longer than habitual sleep duration, declined during the experiment to asymptotic values that were 1.5 hr shorter in older (7.4 +/- 0.4 SEM, hour) than in younger subjects (8.9 +/- 0.4). Rapid-eye-movement sleep and non-rapid-eye-movement sleep contributed about equally to this reduction. Thus, in the absence of social and circadian constraints, both daytime sleep propensity and the maximal capacity for sleep are reduced in older people. These data have important implications for understanding age-related insomnia.

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