One of the specific memories I have of my grandmother was her sleep habits. At certain times of the year, it was difficult for her to stay awake until it got dark outside. In the morning, she’d be up before dawn, peeking out the window to wait for her newspaper to be delivered. My mom and I used to chuckle about the fact that my grandma would be up and ready to start the day by 4 a.m. Now, I’m the one chuckling because my mom is becoming just like her.
“I was up at 4 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep,” she’ll tell me. Or she’ll comment that she can’t go to evening movies anymore because she can’t stay awake. She attributes it to aging, but some new research shows that age may not be to blame if your quality of shut-eye isn’t what it used to be. And it could be time to discuss the problem with your doctor.
The study, published in the journal Sleep, looked at data from over 150,000 responses to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Questions in the survey related to self-reported sleep disturbance and tiredness. An analysis of the data found no relationship between age and lower quality of sleep or lack of energy. “Scientists suspect that sleep problems in many older Americans may be a symptom of underlying illness, not simply aging.” Those illnesses included poor general health and depression. “Looking at reports of sleep problems across all ages, the researchers also found a slight increase in sleep disturbances during middle age. But overall, most people reported fewer sleep problems as they grew older, and 80-year-old people had fewer complaints than those who were 50.”
Other studies have come to the same conclusion that healthy older people don’t have any more trouble falling asleep than those who are younger. If you are having trouble sleeping, especially if it’s a new problem, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to your doctor. They can help rule out any underlying medical conditions, medications that could be interfering with your sleep quality, etc. (Don’t worry, my mom has discussed her problem with her doctor to make sure she’s in good health.)
Wondering how much you know about sleep? Take SparkPeople’s Sleep Quiz and take our Sleep Challenge.
What do you think? Have your sleeping patterns changed as you age? If so, how have you dealt with it?