Intended for healthcare professionals


Treatments for sleep problems in elderly people

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 09 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1049

Cognitive behavioural therapy is useful, but its benefits seem to be short lived

  1. Paul Montgomery, researcher (
  1. University of Oxford Section of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Park Hospital, Oxford OX3 7LQ

    Sleep problems are common among older people—12-25% of healthy elderly people report chronic insomnia, with higher rates among those with coexisting medical or psychiatric illness.1 Despite these high rates little has been published that specifically concerns sleep in people over 60 years. This article provides a brief summary of some of the main evidence available on treatments for what is one of the main sleep related problems in otherwise healthy elderly people, based on a recent series of Cochrane systematic reviews.24

    There are three main sleep problems: too much (excessive sleepiness); too little (sleeplessness); and “things that go bump in the night” (parasomnias). Nearly 90 sleep disorders are, however, listed in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders.5 When considering a patient's sleep it can be helpful to think about the quality (was it refreshing?), duration (in hours and minutes, taking account of …

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