Optimising quality of sleep among older people

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SomnIA is a four year project which addresses 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 up' strategically targeted areas of sleep research relevant to understanding and improving autonomy, active ageing, and quality of later life.


  • Prof Sara Arber, University of Surrey (Principal Investigator)
  • Prof Roger Orpwood, University of Bath
  • Prof Debra Skene, University of Surrey
  • Dr Ingrid Eyers, University of Surrey/ Vechta University, Germany
  • Prof Kevin Morgan, University of Loughborough
  • Prof David Armstrong, Kings College London




  • Daniel Barrett, University of Surrey
  • Dr Bruce Carey-Smith, University of Bath
  • Emma Cope, University of Surrey/ St. Peter’s Hospital, Surrey
  • Dr Beverley David, Loughborough University
  • Dr Alex Dregan, University of Surrey/ King’s College London
  • Nina Evans, University of Bath
  • Pamela Gregory, Loughborough University
  • Dr Samantha Hopkins, University of Surrey
  • Dr Rebekah Luff, University of Surrey
  • Dr Robert Meadows, University of Surrey
  • Dr Benita Middleton, University of Surrey
  • Dr Susan Venn, University of Surrey

PhD Students

  • Theresa Ellmers, University of Surrey
  • Claire Gascoigne, Loughborough University
  • Katharina Lederle, University of Surrey
  • Lloyd Morgan, University of Surrey

Project Partners

  • Healthtalkonline, University of Oxford: Sue Ziebland
  • AgeUK: Dr James Goodwin
  • Nottinghamshire Health Care NHS Trust: Dr Maureen Tomeny
  • Philips Lighting: Dr Luc Schlangen
  • Relatives & Residents Association: Dr Gillian Dalley, Pat Duff OBE

Advisory Committee

  • Prof Colin Espie, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Gillian Crosby, Centre for Policy in Ageing
  • Dr Chris Hanning, University of Leicester
  • Prof Mike Nolan, University of Sheffield
  • Dr John Shneerson, Papworth Hospital, Cambridge
  • Prof Christina Victor, Brunel University
  • Dr Luci Wiggs, Oxford Brookes University
  • Prof Bob Woods, University of Wales

Contact details

Sara Arber

Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender (CRAG)
Sociology Dept, Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences
University of Surrey, Guildford GU2 7XH
Tel: 01483 689292


The SomnIA interdisciplinary team comprises partners from six disciplines and four institutions - sociology (Sara Arber/Rebekah Luff/Susan Venn, Surrey), psychology (Kevin Morgan, Loughborough), neuroendocrinology (Debra Skene/Benita Middleton, Surrey), engineering (Roger Orpwood, Bath), nursing (Ingrid Eyers, Surrey) and medicine (David Armstrong, Kings College London), together with consultants in health economics (Heather Gage), medical statistics (Peter Williams) and clinical psychology (Maureen Tomeny).

SomnIA is working closely with five project partners: Philips Lighting, North Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, Healthtalkonline (University of Oxford), The Relatives and Residents Association, and AgeUK. These project partners are providing detailed advice, access to research settings and products, and assisting the dissemination of results.


Good sleep in later life reduces risk of falls and depression, is essential for maintaining activity and performance levels, and reduces challenging behaviour encountered in dementia sufferers. SomnIA aims to characterise and improve the sleep of older people both living in the community and in care homes, and thereby improve quality of life and functioning, and reduce use of sleep medication. This will be achieved through the following four sets of objectives to:

  1. Understand the meanings and determinants of poor quality sleep among older people in community and residential settings (WP1, WP2, WP3).

  2. Develop and evaluate Expert Patient supported self-management of older people with sleep problems in general practice (WP4).

  3. Develop effective novel non-pharmacological treatment options for sleep problems. Evaluate ‘blue-enriched’ light in improving sleep of older people in the community and care homes (WP5, WP6), and develop and evaluate sensor-based products for use by frail older people at home and in care homes (WP7).

  4. Develop a module on ‘sleep problems’ for the Healthtalkonline website and a user-friendly information website for older people with sleep problems (WP8).

Policy implications

1.      Key policy and/or practice implications of the research will focus primarily on reducing use of sleeping medication among older people through the development and evaluation of non-pharmacological ways of improving sleep. These are likely to include:

  • Providing examples of best self-help practice for older people with sleeping problems living in the community.
  • Recommendations about light exposure and activities for older people.
  • Recommendations for changing routines in care homes to facilitate improved sleep, including recommendations about daily routine of residents, activities of residents, night-time routines of care staff, and noise levels.
  • Recommendations for increasing illumination levels in care homes (both natural and artificial), and designing care homes to maximise natural light exposure.
  • Providing advice to older people and to health care professionals about the importance of sleep and ways of optimising quality sleep, including through the sleep module on the Healthtalkonline website.


2.      Product development opportunities include:

  • Philips (a non-academic partner) and other Lighting companies will be encouraged to design lights specifically tailored to older people (optimising lighting both in terms of intensity and spectral composition).
  • Development of innovative sensor products (e.g. automatic lighting relating to an older person’s behaviour and behaviour monitoring) will provide manufacturers with an opportunity to manufacture products to facilitate sleep (and minimise night-time disturbance) for older people in care homes and the community.

Key non-academic user groups that will be targeted:

  •       Older people in care homes, their relatives and friends

    • Care home proprietors and companies; care home managers and staff

    • Care home architects and interior designers

    • Designers of housing for older people

    • Charities and other organisations representing older people, both living in the community and in care homes

    • Health care professionals : Primary Care Trusts, nurses, health and social care staff

    • Educators and trainers of health and social care professionals

    • Lighting and other equipment manufacturers



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