How Sleep Changes in Mid-Life

Effect of Age, Gender and Retirement on Sleep Quality during working years examined in recent study

(RxWiki News) Sleep quality affects every aspect of your life and your sleep patterns change throughout your life. Much is understood about sleep in young adults and the elderly, but not much is known about sleep patterns during the all important middle years, when people are typically focused on building their careers.

A recent study examined sleep in regards to age, gender and retirement in individuals from their thirties until just after retirement. The study found that difficulties in falling asleep and the use of sleep aiding drugs regularly increased with age, while other sleep problems plateau, or even decline, after age 52.

"Speak with your doctor if you are having difficulty sleeping."

The data used for this study was taken from an already existing French study on aging, health and work called VISAT. VISAT examines how and to what extent working conditions affect an individual physically and psychologically as they age.

VISAT consists of 3,237 present and former wage earns born in 1964, 1954, 1944 or 1934. The participants were examined in 1996, 2001 and 2006 for five components totaling 500 variables each.

The VISAT participants were surveyed for current and past work situations, current and past medical history, psychometric tests, life outside of work such as leisure activities and sleep in relation to stress level and feelings of control and medical tests.

For the VISAT component relating to sleep, the participants were given a self administered questionnaire that was validated in a face to face meeting. The questionnaire assessed five major sleep complaints on a four point scale.

The assessed sleep complaints included difficulty falling asleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, difficulty returning to sleep, waking up too early and use of sleep medication.

Lead author of the current study, Jean-Claude Marquié, PhD, of the University of Toulouse, CNRS, France and team examined data from 623 VISAT participants. The participants were chosen because they completed the 1996, 2001 and 2006 examinations and had never worked nights, rotating shift or other non traditional work schedules.

Preliminary analysis of the data revealed what the researchers refer to as a decade effect. Potential societal, economic, cultural and medical changes over time may change the typical sleep patterns and sleep complaints in a population.

The decade effect is seen in the difference between data taken in 1996 and 2006. Participants aged 42 in 2006 reported they had more sleep complaints than participants at age 42 in 1996.

Sleep complaints were reported as early on in the participant’s lives as their thirties and increased with age up until the mid-50s. In their mid-50s, sleep problems remained constant except in the case of premature awakening.

Premature awakening typically decreased after reaching a plateau in the mid-50s, until the participant was age 72 and upon retirement. Although other sleep problems did not increase at retirement, the use of drugs to aid sleep continued to increase.

Women showed higher sleep disturbance rates than men at all ages and were more likely to use drugs to aid in sleep. Waking up too early was more likely to occur in women in their thirties and early forties, which may be due to child care duty gender roles.

The study does have several limitations. Some data conflicts with past studies such as a lack of gender effect on retirement sleep quality in this study. Further research should be conducted to clarify these areas.

Another factor that could affect results is a heightened awareness of sleep issues leading to more perceived sleep disturbance. This could particularly be true in regards to the decade effect.

The study was published in the August issue of Sleep and was funded by grants from the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche, the Institute of Occupational Safety & Health in the UK, and the Direction Générale de la Santé, la Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie des Travailleurs Salariés (CNAMTS), du Régime Social des Indépendants (RSI) et de la Caisse Nationale de Solidarité pour l’Autonomie (CNSA).

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
August 10, 2012