Aging does not appear to be a factor in poor sleep, a survey has revealed.
A survey of 150,000 adults found that sleep quality appears to improve over a lifetime, with the fewest complaints coming from people in their 80s.
Appearing in the March edition of the journal Sleep, the study examined rates of sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue reported by 155,877 Americans.
"This flies in the face of popular belief," said Michael Grandner, PhD, lead author of the study. "These results force us to re-think what we know about sleep in older people – men and women."
Survey participants were asked about sleep disturbances and daytime tiredness. The survey also asked about race, income, education, depression, general health and when their most recent medical check-up was.
Health problems and depression were associated with poor sleep, and women reported more sleep disturbances and tiredness than men. But except for a rise in sleep problems during middle age – more pronounced in women than men – sleep quality improved consistently over a lifetime. Or at least that's how people reported their sleep.
"Even if sleep among older Americans is actually worse than in younger adults, feelings about it still improve with age," said Grandner, Research Associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Once you factor out things like illness and depression, older people should be reporting better sleep. If they're not, they need to talk to their doctor. They shouldn't just ignore it."
Grandner said the study's original intention was to confirm that increased sleep problems are associated with aging, using the largest and most representative sample ever to address this issue.
Instead, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that difficulty sleeping is perceived more by older adults, and go against the general clinical practice of ignoring sleep complaints from older adults as a normal part of aging.
"Those who curl up in the foetus position are described as tough on the outside but sensitive at heart. They may be shy when they first meet somebody, but soon relax. The foetus is the most common sleeping position, with women more likely to adopt this position than men."
"Lying on your back with both arms up around the pillow. These sleepers make good friends because they are always ready to listen to others, and offer help when needed. They generally don't like to be the centre of attention."
"Lying on your front with your hands around the pillow, and your head turned to one side. Often gregarious and brash people, but can be nervy and thin-skinned underneath, and don't like criticism, or extreme situations."
"Lying on your back with both arms pinned to your sides. People who sleep in this position are generally quiet and reserved. They don't like a fuss, but set themselves and others high standards."
"People who sleep on their side with both arms out in front are said to have an open nature, but can be suspicious, cynical. They are slow to make up their minds, but once they have taken a decision, they are unlikely ever to change it."
"Lying on your side with both arms down by your side. These sleepers are easy going, social people who like being part of the in-crowd, and who are trusting of strangers. However, they may be gullible."