What keeps you awake at night?

Research released today shows that older Australians might toss and turn at night, but they’re more likely than younger people to bounce out of bed in the morning.

The report, released on World Sleep Day, found that people aged 65 and over are happier with their sleep patterns than younger people.

“We found that older people are not sleeping particularly well, but they have considerably less sleep-related fatigue and irritability than younger people,” says Professor Robert Adams, a sleep specialist with the Sleep Health Foundation.

“It’s positive to see that despite some pretty significant disruption older people are, on the whole, less bothered by a bad night’s sleep and wake feeling refreshed.”

A survey of 1011 Australians, 175 of whom were 65 or older, asked questions about sleep habits, sleep problems, work life, income, mental health and personal details like age, sex and education.

“We found more than half (52 per cent) of older people wake a lot in the night, compared to 40 per cent of younger people. They’re also more likely to wake too early (40 vs 33 per cent) and have just as much difficulty falling asleep at night,” Professor Adams says.

“But, and it’s a big but, how they feel about this sleep differs considerably from working-age people.

“A third wake up feeling unrefreshed, compared with 48 per cent of other people, and 61 per cent feel they get adequate sleep, compared to 47 per cent of those under 65.”

Professor Adams believes the relaxed retiree lifestyle could contribute to the results.

“My feeling is their daytime demands are lower in general,” he says.

“They’ve got less time pressure; less general stress and more flexibility so don’t feel as fatigued.

“[But] it’s also possible that older Australians have learnt to mask their sleep problem with caffeine, as results show 28 per cent have 4-5 caffeinated drinks a day. If that’s the case that’s nothing to celebrate.”

Prof. Adams said the take home message was a positive one.

“I think many people will be happy to know that increasingly tiredness and fatigue are not an inevitable consequence of getting older. In fact, your sleep can actually improve with age.”

He warned that overall however, sleep issues reported in the study were quite significant, and any older Australians with concerns about their sleep should speak to their GP or a sleep specialist.

Sleep Health Foundation’s Dr Moira Junge says a good night’s sleep is vital for looking after your physical, cognitive and emotional health as you age.

“We know from large-scale international studies that sleeping well in young adulthood and middle age reduces the risk of obesity and hypertension, protects against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, and has been associated with decreased rates of depression,” said Dr Junge.

“In fact, in some studies good sleep has even been shown to be associated with fewer signs of ageing in facial skin and better tissue tone.

“Getting your forty winks can help you feel better, be better, and look better too.”

Do you get enough sleep? How do you wake in the morning? What keeps you awake at night? Why not partake in our Friday Flash Poll and help us put together a larger sample to send to Sleep Health Foundation?

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What’s the secret to a good night’s sleep? Tell us in the comments section below.

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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