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Several factors affect sleep disturbances in the elderly

This is Science Today. Getting enough sleep is vital for good health, but as we age, depth of sleep actually decreases. Dr. Michael Irwin, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA says there are a number of factors that predict problems with sleeping besides biological processes.

Irwin:             There are what we call psychosocial or psychological processes that contribute to this impairment in sleeping. Significant stressors occur as we age - we may have lost our spouse and so that stress in and of itself is also a significant factor.

Narrator:       Adding to this, the elderly are at greater risk for developing depression and often take a number of medications that affect sleep. Yet, Irwin has found that practicing a simple, Westernized form of tai chi, promotes better sleep in older adults.

Irwin:             We found improvements in the overall sleep quality - people found that their sleep was more restful and the overall maintenance of sleep, that is, the amount of time that people were waking up throughout the night.

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.