Does Insomnia Help - or Hurt - Your Lifespan?

Insomnia link to early death in seniors is uncertain and depends on other factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It is not uncommon for adults to complain of having more difficulty sleeping as they grow older. But just because a senior experiences insomnia does not mean it puts their health at risk.

A recent study found that the link between insomnia and an older adult's risk of dying earlier depends on different factors.

When researchers looked only at insomnia and risk of death, insomnia appeared to increase adults' risk.

But when the researchers considered how much total sleep adults got and whether they took sleeping medications, the increased risk only for insomnia disappeared.

In fact, having an insomnia disorder appeared to possibly even reduce their risk of death.

"Discuss your sleep concerns with your doctor."

The study, led by Hsi-Chung Chen, MD, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Center of Sleep Disorders at National Taiwan University Hospital, looked at the rates of survival and death among older Taiwanese adults based on their sleeping habits.

The researchers followed 4,064 Taiwanese adults over age 65 for a total of nine years.

The researchers gathered information on insomnia rates among the adults as well as their use of hypnotic medications as sleeping aids, their total amount of sleep and their symptoms of depression.

The last three pieces of information were used in the analysis to isolate only the relationship between insomnia and rates of death among the participants.

The researchers found that adults with some insomnia had about 20 percent increased odds of dying compared to those without insomnia.

Insomnia was defined as having a score above 5 on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which ranges from 0 (good) to 21 (bad).

However, when the researchers considered death rates without removing the influence of hypnotic medications or total sleep time, they found that longer sleep each night and use of these medications was linked to an earlier death.

In this second analysis, the link between the insomnia and increased odds of death vanished, implying that the relationship has more to do with the medications or length of sleep.

In fact, among adults who had been officially diagnosed with an insomnia disorder for at least six months, their odds of dying were about 36 percent less than those without the disorder.

"Older adults with recently developed insomnia, long sleep durations, and frequent use of hypnotics warrant more in-depth assessment," the researchers wrote.

"Overall, the simultaneous inclusion of insomnia, sleep duration and use of hypnotics in the model was advantageous," they wrote.

Therefore, a better understanding of insomnia is necessary before high-risk seniors can be identified and the influence of insomnia disorders is clearer.

"There's a complex association between the sleep and various changes as far as mortality goes," said William Kohler, MD, director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida.

"Other studies have shown that too much sleep — more than 9 hours — has been associated with an increased risk of early death," he said.

The study was published in the August issue of the journal Sleep.

The research was funded by the Community Medicine Research Center of National Yang-Ming University in Taipei, Taiwan. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 29, 2013
Last Updated:
August 31, 2013