Sleep gets worse with age? Not so, researchers say

By Carrie Johnson Weimar O'Brien • Published: June 27th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There’s a whole host of problems we expect to encounter as we age: aching joints, slower metabolism and hearing loss, just to name a few. But a new study shows that one malady typically associated with old age — an inability to sleep soundly — may be nothing more than a myth. In fact, the quality of your sleep may actually improve as you grow older.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed more than 150,000 people about the quality of their sleep and daytime fatigue.

The results were surprising. The research showed that quality of sleep tended to improve with age, with the exception of a slight increase in sleep problems during middle age, especially among women. In fact, people aged 80 and older scored the highest on sleep quality when compared to other age groups.

The research echoes earlier findings, including one study that showed older people had a better ability to withstand the effects of sleep deprivation. Another study found that most changes in sleep patterns occurred among people between the ages of 20 and 60, and that healthy, older people had little difficulty falling asleep.

So what accounts for the persistent myth? Researchers aren’t really sure, but they suspect the problems older people report when it comes to sleeping stem from underlying illnesses, not the aging process. Difficulty sleeping may also be a reaction to medication.

No matter how old you are, there are a few good rules to help you get a good night’s sleep. Make your bedroom comfortable. Don’t eat or drink too much — or too little — before turning in for the night. Limit daytime naps. And be sure to incorporate some physical activity into you daily schedule. Take a long walk, ride a bike or go for a swim. A little exercise will you fall asleep and could help you stay in shape, too.