May 7 (HealthDay News) -- Healthy older adults cope better with sleep deprivation than younger adults, and daytime sleepiness among older adults isn't a normal part of aging, U.S. researchers say.
Their study included 11 older adults (aged 65 to 76) and 26 young adults (aged 18 to 29) who had three nights of eight hours of sleep followed by a 26-hour period of staying awake. During that period of wakefulness, the study participants remained sitting in bed and had someone in the room to help keep them awake. They weren't allowed to exercise or to drink caffeinated beverages.
After the period of wakefulness, the older adults were less impaired by sleep deprivation, showed faster reaction times and fewer performance lapses, paid better attention, and had fewer unintentional sleep episodes than the younger adults, the study authors found.
The study was published in the May 3 online issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
"Even very healthy adults like those in our study see a decline in sleep quality and duration as they age. And it is often assumed that daytime sleepiness in older adults is the result of the typical changes in nighttime sleep that come with age," Jeanne Duffy, of the sleep medicine division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a hospital news release.
But these findings show "that daytime sleepiness in older adults should not be attributed to a normal consequence of the aging process. Rather, daytime sleepiness may instead be a result of a number of other potential factors, such as chronic medical conditions, undiagnosed sleep disorders, or side effects of medications older people may be taking," Duffy explained.
Duffy said older adults who fall asleep unintentionally during the daytime or early evening should be checked by a doctor for the underlying cause of their sleepiness.
SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, May 4, 2009