Sleep in the Elderly

You may hear people tell how their sleep has worsened as they age. They describe lower quality night time sleep, and more need to nap during the day. Recently I had the privilege of working with a person age 101 on sleep health. This was a good experience, which brought elder sleep issues to the front of my mind. This week, an important study about sleep in the elderly was published in the medical journal Sleep.

Sleep Characteristics of the Elderly
Over 15,000 interviews were conducted in China with people 65 years old and older, including almost 2,800 people age 100 or more. China has an estimated 40.5 million people who are 75 years old and older. The US has more than 18 million people in this age group.

Looking at this population, 65% of the people reported their sleep is “good or very good.” Total sleep time was 7.5 hours, which included naps. Men were more likely to sleep well than women.

An interesting finding was that the oldest (age 100+) were 70% more likely to sleep well than those ages 65 to 79. They were also 3 times more likely to sleep 10 or more hours each night, and less likely to get only 5 hours of sleep.

Access to healthcare and economic status also made a difference – people were 84% more likely to sleep well if they had adequate healthcare. The people with poor health overall were less likely to sleep well, as were those with a chronic disease, anxiety, or difficulty doing the tasks of daily living. Those with good economic stability were more likely to sleep well.

How Can We Use this Information?
Although this study gives us valuable information about sleep in the elderly, it does not give information on cause. We are still left wondering “How long did these elderly people sleep in their middle age?” “Did their sleep habits earlier in life allow them to live into their hundreds?”

What was clear is that those with the best overall health were more likely to sleep well. So taking good care of yourself, addressing health concerns, and getting help from a medical professional when needed will help your sleep in the long run.

This Chinese study is ongoing, so we’ll be able to learn more about this in another couple years – stay tuned!

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