Insomnia occurs in older people more often than in younger people. Individuals who have physical disabilities or psychological impairments such as depression or anxiety are also more vulnerable to insomnia than others. For older individuals, living alone, isolating from social situations, and engaging in few physical activities can contribute to insomnia. Physical health problems can require medication that can also interfere with normal sleep patterns. Taken together, these factors put older individuals at a greater risk for insomnia than other segments of the population. Difficulty falling asleep or frequent episodes of waking up can impact many areas of life. People who are under-rested may not be able to think clearly and may feel very fatigued during the day. This can affect daily functioning, physical and mental well-being, and overall quality of life.
Currently, the most common method of treatment for insomnia in older adults is medication. However, aside from the obvious risks including reaction, ineffectiveness, and addiction, the effect of medication tends to wear off after a few months of use. Therefore, Iris Halmoy of the Department of Psychology at Yezreel Academic College in Israel conducted a study to see how well cognitive training would improve sleep patterns in older adults with insomnia. Halmoy enlisted 54 adults between the ages of 65 and 85 and enrolled them all in an 8-week, home-based internet training program. Thirty-four of the adults completed a cognitive training program involving memory, visual, and naming tasks, while the remaining 17 completed a noncognitive program.
All of the participants were evaluated for levels of insomnia and cognitive functioning before and after the experiment. Halmoy found that the cognitive group saw dramatic increases in sleep duration and declines in waking as a result while the control group had significant declines in cognitive ability. The training that focused on avoiding distractions was generally helpful, while visual training led to quicker onset of sleep and naming tasks improved sleep duration. In fact, all of the participants in the cognitive group improved their sleep behavior near the point of no longer meeting clinical criteria for insomnia. Halmoy added, “In summary, the results of the present study suggest that cognitive training may be beneficial in the initiation and maintenance of sleep among older adult insomniacs.” She also notes that as evidenced by the control group, abstaining from regular cognitive training can lead to sharp declines in working memory for older individuals with insomnia. She hopes her results will impact clinical interventions designed to enhance cognitive functioning and sleep patterns in older adults.
Haimov, I., and Shatil, E. (2013). Cognitive training improves sleep quality and cognitive function among older adults with insomnia. PLoS ONE 8(4): e61390. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061390
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