Sleep gets better with age

Nadine Bells
Shine On
older woman sleeping

Scientists and researchers have long believed that older adults "have trouble getting a good night's rest," more so than their younger counterparts. Turns out that's not true.

A new study, published in the journal Sleep, found that young men are twice as likely to report sleeping problems than adults over 80. Similarly, young women are 1.61 times more likely to complain of sleep issues than those decades older.

"This flies in the face of popular belief," said lead author, Michael Grandner, in a statement. "These results force us to rethink what we know about sleep in older people — men and women."

Researchers analyzed data from a 2006 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which asked 155,877 adults about their sleep quality. Participants were asked to gauge their daytime tiredness levels and sleep disturbances by answering the following questions:

"Over the last two weeks, how many days have you had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or sleeping too much?" and "Over the last two weeks, how many days have you felt tired or had little energy?"

[See also: How to live to 100, starting today]

Each surveyed adult was also asked about race, mood, health, income and education. The findings pointed to stress, depression and illness as greater sleep-quality indicators than biological age.

"This study shows that older people are not more likely to complain of sleep problems or daytime tiredness, relative to younger people, if you take demographics, socioeconomics, health, access to care, and depressed mood out of the equation," Grandner told MSNBC.

"Getting older does not necessarily mean that you will experience poor sleep and daytime tiredness," Grandner told WebMD. "If you do experience these things, they may be due to a medical or other issue, and not necessarily a degradation of sleep."

Why do younger people experience more sleep problems? Grandner speculates that the stresses of mid-life — juggling demanding careers and raising families — might be to blame.

"For men, workplace issues may also be a likely culprit, as that age is associated with peaks in heart disease risk, stress, and sleep apnea," he said of mid-life sleep issues.

"Older people have more stressors in their life, but they also seem to be better able to handle those stressors," Grandner adds.

Another possible explanation for the surprise findings? Smithsonian's Virginia Hughes writes, "As people get older, they tend to lower their standards of what it means to be healthy. So it could be that these seniors simply have a rosier opinion of their sleep patterns than other, more objective measures suggest."

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

Think you'll never get a good night's sleep again? Just wait until you're 80.

Don't want to wait that long? Check out these tips for getting the best sleep of your life.

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