New research has put the lie to the myth that we need less sleep as we age, and it is possibly good news for the millions of Americans who struggle to get a consistent regular good nightâ€™s rest. The best estimate is that a hundred million Americans suffer with sleep disorders of various kinds.
The new research asked more than 150 thousand people how they sleep, and the outstanding conclusion is that sleeping well increases with age. The lowest numbers of reported problems were among the over 80’s. This definitely turns our accepted wisdom on its head. A point made well by the lead author of the report who went on to say we need to re-think our perception of sleep in old age. Appropriately enough the new study appears on the journal â€˜Sleep.’
Sleep Disturbance and Daytime Energy
The researchers undertook a massive telephone questionnaire with nearly 155,900 people. They were all asked to describe their rates of sleep disturbance and levels of energy during the daytime. To make valid social correlations with other factors the survey participants were also questioned about ethnic background, income level, education, mood swings, overall physical condition and the last time they visited their doctor.
All the information was given the exact same weighting as that of the national census. One of the clear conclusions was that irregular or disturbed sleep patterns were directly related to illnesses and depressed mood states, with females reporting more insomnia episodes and fatigue than males.
No real surprises there, but what was a surprise was the consistent reported improvements in sleep patterns over the lifetimes of the participants. The only exception to this improved resting curve was a spike in night-time restlessness during the middle ages of the respondents. Again, this increase in insomnia periods was noticeably more pronounced in females than in males.
Sleep Patterns and Aging
The important thing about this study is that it is not an experiment in analyzing actual sleep patterns, but it is a quasi experiment in people perceptions of their sleep patterns. Thus, night-time rest among elderly Americans may, in reality, be worse than that of younger folks but the elderly do feel that it is much improved with maturity. On a personal level, older people should discount periods of illness and bouts of the blues and talk to their doctor if they are suffering disturbances of sleep. It is most likely a symptom of a deeper malaise and should not be ignored. They have a right to expect a good nightâ€™s sleep.
Insomnia and Aging
The study began with the aim of confirming the hypothesis the insomnia and other sleep disturbances go hand in hand with aging. However, the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken actually disproved the hypothesis. It definitely undermines the widely held belief of many and hopefully will increase older peopleâ€™s awareness of difficulty in getting a good nightâ€™s sleep is something to act upon and not simply accept as another symptom of old age. Do not fall into the trap of ignoring sleep’s disturbance and do not let your doctor sideline it as an issue either.