Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Insomnia Theories Tossed out New Study May Help in Treating Elderly

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Insomnia Theories Tossed out New Study May Help in Treating Elderly

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Most theories about why millions of elderly suffer insomnia are wrong, according to a new study that says the brain clock regulating sleep ticks as accurately for the old as for the young.

Experts say the study could help researchers find new treatments for sleeplessness.

Among its findings, the study revealed that the brain clock regulating sleep is on a 24-hour schedule, not a 25-hour cycle that researchers long believed.

"We are going to have to rethink all of the explanations we have been giving for insomnia," said Charles A. Czeisler of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "All of the textbooks indicate that humans have a 25-hour day instead of a 24-hour day. We now know that is wrong."

Czeisler is lead author of the study that appeared yesterday in the journal Science.

Andrew A. Monjan, chief of neurobiology at the National Institute of Aging, said the study changes fundamental assumptions about the causes of sleeplessness among the elderly and will prompt researchers to find new solutions for a sleep disorder that affects more than 10 million elderly Americans.

"We know now that poor sleep is not a function of being old by itself," said Monjan. "We also know now that you don't treat insomnia by just taking a sleeping pill."

Researchers need to look at such things as exposure to room light, illness and genetics to explain why insomnia has become a part of the lives of millions of people, particularly the elderly, Monjan said.

Richard E. Kronauer of Harvard University, a senior author of the study, said the research emphasized how exposure to artificial light during nighttime hours can reset the body's sleep clock, making it difficult to get up on time in the morning.

"We have been finding that people young and old are more sensitive to light than we suspected," said Kronauer. "Light in the evening is a strong influence on shifting the clock toward a later time."

The tendency of many sleepless people to push bedtime later and later, particularly on the weekends, has been blamed on what researchers thought was a natural adjustment to the cumulative effect of a 25-hour brain clock. …

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