physical disabilities or psychological impairments such as depression or anxiety are also more vulnerable to in..." /> physical disabilities or psychological impairments such as depression or anxiety are also more vulnerable to in..." />

Brain Training Helps Older Adults Sleep Better

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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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • G.Kirsten

    April 17th, 2013 at 10:32 PM

    Things do to into a decline with age.. How one copes with it decides how bad it gets.. My father is almost eighty but is as sharp as any youngster..He not only does physical exercise on a daily basis but also involves himself in puzzle solving and brain teasers.That definitely has played a role in keeping him sharp.

    Change is not the problem..Its how we adapt that decides where we’ll end up. Insomnia or not regularly exercising your brain should be a priority for any senior.

  • Libba

    April 18th, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    I would much rather have someone try this that always become so reliant on pharmaceutical sleep aids. Doctors are so quick to prescribe those, and I think with very little thought about the long term impact that these drugs can have or even what kind of interaction they could have with other medications that the patient is taking. This is much like teaching a baby how to sleep, it might be tough for a few days but eventually they settle in and learn to soothe themselves. I think that for many adults the same could apply.

  • Grandma G

    April 18th, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    I think this is extremely unfair: when I was a young mom and all I wanted to do was sleep, the babies and kids kept me up at all hours of the night. Now that their grown and gone and the house is so peaceful at night, I can’t sleep. SO UNFAIR!!

  • casey

    April 18th, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    So this is what i have to look forward to oh i’m so excited! LOL!

  • Penko

    April 18th, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    My mother-in-law was on medication for having sleeping problems.
    I can’t remember the name of it but it’s the one where people do weird stuff while htey are asleep and can’t remember doing it when they wake up.
    She would get up in the middle of eht night and eat a bunch of food.
    She’d leav it on the counter and then get mad at my father-in-law for makig a mess in teh kitchen and then not cleaning it up.
    Once they figured otu what was going on, it was really funny.
    We all got a big kick out of it.
    And, we were just glad she wasn’t one of the ones who drove wihtout knowing it!

  • Stella Sharandan

    April 18th, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    Super results-sure wish I knew what activities they did so I can start doing them, too. Never too early to start I say. Also wonder what would happen if they added some sort of physical activity since the author said in the first paragraph that lack of activity also causes sleep problems.

  • jean

    April 18th, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    No schocker here, i mean haven’t they been telling us for ages that we should do stuff that makes our minds work when we get old. i just hope i can still remember this by the time i’m that old haha. i’m sure if my mind is this bad at 43, it’ll be 100 times worse at 83 and then what am i going to do. maybe i’ll get lucky and i’ll be the first person ever to have a really sharp mind and body without having to do anythning toi work for it oh man how i’d love that

  • traci

    April 18th, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    while the results are great and even to a level of surprising,I think the real surprise here is that the benefits were derived from a home-based,internet-driven exercise.and that too for older people.if it is so simple that older people can also follow it then hats off- it really is awesome!

  • Sam S

    April 18th, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    Try this if you can’t sleep. Go to bed and recall a time when you felt soooo tired that you couldn’t keep your eyes open. Relive that experience as much as you can remembering what you were seeing and how sleepy you felt. Then be grateful that you are in a position that you can now sleep and there is no need to keep your eyes open. The other thing you can try is to lie down and try to STAY AWAKE! TEll yourself I’m going to stay awake no matter what! It’s called paradoxal intention. It sounds counter intuitive, but if what you are doing is not working, try something else. Usually the opposite of what you are doing is what gets you results.

  • collin y

    April 19th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    I have a solution- it’s called ambien

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