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Sleep Hypn. 2009 Jan 1;11(1). pii: 219.

The Sleep of the Bereaved.

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  • 1Neuroscience Clinical and Translational Research Center Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.



Sleep disruption is common in widow(er)s. The objective of this study was to characterize the sleep of Spousally Bereaved (SB) seniors (60y+) studied within 4-19 months of being widowed.


Subjective (PSQI, 2-weeks diary) and objective (2-weeks actigraphy) baseline sleep measures were obtained in 47 (38f, 9m) Spousally Bereaved (SB) seniors, 33 (25f, 8m) Good Sleeper Controls (GSC), and 47 (38f, 9m) Older Adults with Insomnia (OAI); each group with the same mean age (72y). OAI subjects passed formal diagnostic criteria for primary or co-morbid insomnia. GSC subjects had no diagnosis of insomnia. At baseline (pre-treatment), all subjects completed 2 weeks of detailed sleep diary and wrist actigraphy, and completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) among other measures.


Significant group effects appeared in PSQI (GSC: 2.4, SB: 6.7, OAI: 10.5; Effect Sizes [ES]>1) and diary measures. In diary measures, for Total Sleep Time, Sleep Efficiency and Wake After Sleep Onset, SB were better than OAI and worse than GSC (0.47<ES<1.19). For Sleep Latency, SB were worse than GSC (ES=0.57), but similar to OAI. However, actigraphy results indicated no significant SB vs. GSC, or SB vs. OAI, differences in any of the sleep measures considered.


The sleep disruption of bereaved seniors appears to be intermediate between GSC and OAI, as reported either retrospectively using the PSQI, or prospectively using a sleep diary. Only in diary sleep latency, were SB and OAI values similar. This pattern was not, however, observed when parallel objective actigraphic measures were considered.

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