Sleeping Like a Baby - When You're 80

Sleep appears to improve with age despite conventional wisdom to the contrary

(RxWiki News) Getting older doesn't necessarily mean sleeping worse. In fact, folks in their 80s report having the best sleep - better than those in their 20s and 30s.

In a survey-based study that was designed to confirm that sleep problems increase with aging, the authors were surprised to find the opposite actually appeared to be the case, meaning that doctors should listen to seniors' sleeping complaints.

"Seek your doctor's help if you aren't getting good sleep."

Lead author Michael Grandner, Ph.D., research associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, led the study that surveyed 155,877 adults by telephone about their sleeping problems and their feelings of tiredness during the day.

The surveys also gathered respondents' data on race, income, education, depression tendency, general health and most recent medical check-up, all of which researchers then adjusted to correspond with U.S. census data.

In accordance with what past research has shown, those with health problems and depression had more difficulty getting a good night's sleep. Grandner's team also found that women reported more tiredness and sleep problems than men and that a small increase in sleeping problems appears to occur around middle-age.

Overall, however, the survey revealed that sleep generally got better over people's lifetime. Because the study was based on self-reported answers, it could not measure whether the actual quality of sleep is improving for people as they grow older, but at least their attitudes toward it is.

"Even if sleep among older Americans is actually worse than in younger adults, feelings about it still improve with age," said Grandner. "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."

Gardner said the conventional wisdom has generally been that sleeping difficulties increase with age, which may lead doctors to be more dismissive of their older patients' sleep complaints. He said this study shows that doctors need to take those concerns seriously.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and appeared in the journal Sleep. Three of the co-authors declared consultations and research support associated with a range of industry corporations but that none were associated with this non-industry-funded study.

Review Date: 
March 2, 2012