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Fall risk higher in older women who sleep less

Women age 70 and older who sleep five hours or less per night may be more likely to experience falls than those who sleep more than seven to eight hours per night, according to a report published in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Additionally, the use of sleep medications does not appear to influence the association between sleep and risk of falling.

Falls pose a major health risk among older adults and are a leading cause of mortality, morbidity and premature nursing home placement.

About one-third of adults older than age 65 experience falls each year. Insomnia and disturbed sleep as well as the use of benzodiazepines (hypnotic medications to treat insomnia) are increasingly common in older adults. "It is not established whether it is poor sleep or medications used to treat sleep disturbances that explain the increased risk of falls in those who are prescribed such medications."

Katie L Stone, of the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, San Francisco, and colleagues found that the risk of having two or more falls during the following year was higher for women who slept five hours or less per night compared with women who slept more than seven to eight hours per night.

"Future studies, in particular randomised trials, are needed to determine the effects of newer pharmaceutical interventions for insomnia (eg, benzodiazepine receptor agonists) or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia on risk of falls," the authors conclude.

"In addition, future studies using comprehensive and objective measures of sleep should examine the interrelationships between specific sleep characteristics (eg, sleep-related breathing disorder, hypoxia and measures of sleep duration and fragmentation) to determine if these disorders contribute independently toward risk of falls."