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Sleep doesn't worsen with age, study shows

March 01, 2012|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog

The myth that you sleep worse as you get older isn’t true, scientists argued in a study published Thursday. While older people may have more sleep disturbances than younger people, those problems are linked to illnesses and health issues and have little to do with aging, researchers said.

The study, published in the journal Sleep, examined sleep quality in a more than 150,000 Americans. The survey participants were asked about sleep quality, sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue as well as many questions on race, income, education, mood and their general health.

The research showed that sleep quality tended to improve over one’s lifetime – except for an uptick in sleep problems reported in middle age, especially among women. People age 80 and older scored the highest on sleep quality relative to other age groups.

It’s not clear why older people reported fewer sleep disturbances and tiredness, the authors said. It could be that older people have more control over sleep duration while younger people experience more stressors (jobs, kids, socializing) that interfere with sleep. It’s also possible that older people are just more accepting of sleep quality and don’t complain about it as much.

Nevertheless, “once you factor out things like illness and depression, older people should be reporting better sleep,” the lead author of the study, Michael Grandner, a research associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a news release. “If they’re not, they need to talk to their doctor. They shouldn’t just ignore it.”

Likewise, doctors should not accept the myth that their older patients will naturally complain of sleep problems and that there is little they can do to help, the authors said. 

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