Insomnia is a common complaint of older people, and drugs are frequently prescribed for this condition. However, sleeping medications often have only a short-term effect and create other problems, such as daytime drowsiness and adverse interactions with other prescription drugs.
A preliminary study of two nonpharmacological treatments for insomnia in elderly people compared sleep restriction therapy (restriction) and relaxation therapy (relaxation) as treatments for insomnia in a sample of communityresiding elderly people. The mean age of the subjects was 69.7 years. Under both treatments, the subjects showed improvement in getting to sleep and sleeping throughout the night.
At the 3-month follow-up, restriction subjects were still showing improved sleep efficiency and reduced time in bed, but relaxation subjects were not. In both groups, increased total sleep time was reported at follow-up, but the improvement for restriction subjects was approximately twice that seen in the relaxation group. This suggests that the restriction subjects underwent a longerterm change in their sleep behavior.
Perhaps the single most critical ingrethent in the sleep restriction treatment package is the direction to "get up and out of bed in the morning." Restriction treatment, by its nature, imparts a message that the elderly do not have to rest and be passive much of the time.
For more information, contact Linda Harootyan, The Gerontological Society of America, 1275 K Street, NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20005-4006; 202-842-1 275.