Are you getting less sleep the older you get? This has been the popular belief but it may not be true. A new survey of more than 150,000 Americans shows subjective sleep quality actually improves over a lifetime, with the fewest complaints coming from octogenarians, reports BBC News Health and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine .
“This flies in the face of popular belief,” Michael Grandner, PhD, lead author of the study said in a statement. “These results force us to re-think what we know about sleep in older people — men and women.”
Researchers have extensive and sophisticated equipment to measure the duration and disturbance in sleep study volunteers. However, this does not always match the volunteer´s own opinion on their night´s rest.
The study, conducted by the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on asking large numbers of randomly selected people about the quality of their sleep and correlated it with their race, income, education, mood and general health.
While being depressed or having health problems was linked to poor sleep quality, once the researchers had adjusted the results to compensate for this, a distinct pattern emerged. The researchers found that complaints about poor sleep quality fell as age rose, with the lowest number of complaints coming from those over their 70s.
“Even if sleep among older Americans is actually worse than in younger adults, feelings about it still improve with age,” said Grandner, Research Associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Once you factor out things like illness and depression, older people should be reporting better sleep. If they´re not, they need to talk to their doctor. They shouldn´t just ignore it.”
Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, Professor of Sleep and Physiology and Director of the Surrey Sleep Research Center, told BBC that the study was “interesting”, and, “we have got to get away from all these myths about ageing – many people are very content with their sleep.”
However, he said that asking people for their subjective opinion about sleep patterns could produce answers that were dependent on their mood at the time. “If you are angry because your boss didn´t give you a pay rise, your perception of sleep quality may be very different from someone who is feeling generally content.”
Grandner concluded, saying the study´s original intent was to confirm that increased sleep problems are associated with aging, using the largest and most representative sample ever to address this issue.
Instead, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that difficulty sleeping is perceived more by older adults, and challenge the general clinical practice of ignoring sleep complaints from older adults as a normal part of aging.
The study appears in the March edition of the journal Sleep.
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