Michigan State University researchers to examine sleep patterns in older care facilities

Researchers from the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and MSU Extension have been awarded a grant from that Michigan Health Endowment Fund to analyze sleep quality among adults 55 and older in care facilities.

Robin Tucker and Dawn ContrerasRobin Tucker (left) and Dawn Contreras (right).

Robin Tucker, assistant professor in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Dawn Contreras, health and nutrition specialist with MSU Extension, will work to develop ways to improve sleep duration and sleep quality for adults 55 and older with a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

Tucker and Contreras were awarded $167,000 to support the Sleep Education for Elders Program (SLEEP). They will collaborate with administrators and staff at nursing homes and assisted living centers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to adopt sleep practices and develop an educational curriculum. MSU Extension educators will pilot the educational tools with staff and residents of participating facilities. 

“There are some easy policy and behavioral changes that can help to improve sleep for older adults,” Tucker said. “Just providing ear plugs and eye masks can have a positive impact on sleep. Our goal is to develop an evidence-based checklist of sleep-promoting policies, and share it with long-term care facilities or hospitals that are interested in improving health outcomes and reducing healthcare costs for these individuals.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 40% of Michigan residents fail to achieve the recommended seven hours of  in terms of the percentage of people who meet sleep recommendations of seven hours per night, with one in four older adults in the state failing to achieve this, per the CDC. 

Poor sleep quality also triples the odds of a person entering skilled nursing care where sleeping disturbances can be compounded compared to home environments, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Sleep has long been overlooked as an important determinant of health,” said Contreras. “This grant provides a great opportunity for us to look at ways to help older adults get the amount and quality of sleep needed to better manage or prevent chronic disease.”

Lack of sleep has been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary issues, depression, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and cancer, according to the CDC. It can also result in a weakened immune response, which makes older adults more susceptible to contagious diseases like pneumonia.

“This grant allows us to address a topic that really hasn’t been addressed by public health entities in the state,” said Tucker. “We want to help older adults in care facilities enjoy better sleep as another way to support their health and wellbeing.”

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