March 12, 2007

Good sleep in later life reduces the risk of falls and depression, is essential for maintaining activity and performance levels, and reduces challenging behavior encountered in dementia sufferers. A multi-disciplinary research project headed by the University of Surrey in collaboration with the Universities of Loughborough and Bath and King’s College London will address practice and policy relevant issues arising from the nature, impact, and management of the sleep-wake balance in later life. It will extend and join together strategically targeted areas of sleep research relevant to understanding and improving autonomy, active ageing, and quality of later life.

“Sleep problems in later life are widespread and adversely affect quality of life, but remain under acknowledged and little researched,” said Professor Sara Arber of the University of Surrey Department of Sociology who will lead the research. “Our research will find out the real life experiences of poor sleep among older people, and identify strategies for improving sleep and reducing reliance on sleeping pills.”

This 4-year research project is funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the New Dynamics of Ageing Research Program. Academic partners from six disciplines and four institutions, together with five non-academic partners, will achieve these objectives through research within eight inter-linked work packages.

A range of methods will be used to improve understanding of disrupted sleep and use of sleep medication in later life, including secondary analysis of existing large databases, and in-depth research with older people in the community and care homes. Interventions will be conducted to evaluate the effects of blue-enriched light on quality of sleep in the community and care homes, evaluate a supported self-management program for insomnia among chronically ill patients in general practice, and evaluate newly-developed sensor-devices to improve sleep. Also, a user-friendly information and advice Web site on sleep will be developed, and a sleep education module will be prepared for the DIPEx Web site.