Image of man in bed with head on pillow, looking at alarm clock

Older adults frequently use medication to treat sleep difficulties, but only about half discuss it with their physicians, study results presented at Psych Congress 2021 this week found. In fact, the majority of those surveyed reported using a sleep medication every night, one researcher said.

Maureen Carlyle, MPH, senior project manager for Optum Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) in Minnesota, and colleagues examined administrative claims data for patients aged 65 and older who had recent sleep medication history. Most (56.2%) patients reported that they experienced sleep difficulties every night, and 61.6% had difficulties lasting five years or longer. Difficulty falling asleep (37.8%) represented the most common symptom. Patients had moderate insomnia symptoms on average, although 68.6% reported medication use every night. The most commonly used medications included suvorexant, zolpidem, trazodone and eszopiclone.

“Only half of respondents reported discussing how those medications worked with their provider, suggesting that high use paired with low patient education may represent an opportunity to improve care for older patients,” Carlyle said.

In other sleep-related news, multiple studies in humans and mouse models indicate that sleep disruptions raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by increasing the accumulation of disease-relevant proteins such as amyloid-beta in the brain. 

A team of researchers at Baylor College of Medicine discovered that, in an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease, restoring normal sleep by returning to normal the activity of the thalamic reticular nucleus, a brain region involved in maintaining stable sleep, reduced the plaques’ accumulation in the brain.

Published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the study suggests that the thalamic reticular nucleus not only may play a previously unsuspected driving role in symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s, but also that restoring its normal activity could be a potential therapeutic approach for this severe condition.