The Singapore Family Physician

Back to issue Vol 48 No. 2 - Geriatric Care 2022

Insomnia in the Elderly: Evaluation and Management

Ng Joo Ming Matthew
Ng Beng Yeong
The Singapore Family Physician Vol 48 No 2 - Geriatric Care 2022
1 March 2022
Sleep disturbance is common in the elderly and is frequently undiagnosed. It has been estimated that 75% of adults >65 years of age has sleep disturbance and 30% of them has insomnia. The classification of insomnia has less significance in the older adults as the subtypes demonstrate significant overlap and usually treatment of the underlying disorder does not solve the problem or cure it. The elderly has multiple comorbidities and polypharmacy with a myriad of cause for insomnia. A comprehensive medical and psychiatric history together with a complete physical examination and mental state examination should be done in the evaluation of the older patient. Behavioural therapy with sleep hygiene education should be the initial treatment together with the treatment of the contributing physical and psychiatric conditions. Referral to an expert for cognitive behavioural therapy or multicomponent therapy may be necessary if the initial therapy failed to produce any improvement. If medications are needed it can be combined with behavioural therapy. Medication used should be the lowest effective dose and prescribed for short-term use of not more than 4 weeks. Medications used need to be discontinued gradually and one needs to be mindful of rebound insomnia upon withdrawal. Wherever possible, it will be ideal to avoid benzodiazepines and other sedative hypnotics as first choice for insomnia. Over the counter sleep aids which usually contain antihistamines may not be good choices as they carry significant risk of adverse events and drug interactions. Currently the safest medications for use in the elderly includes the Z-drugs (zolpidem, zopiclone), melatonin and low dose tricyclic antidepressant Doxepin.