One-third of older adults not getting good sleep

Poor health linked with shorter sleep duration
  • Deborah Condon

Almost one-third of older adults in Ireland are not getting a good night's sleep, increasing their risk of negative health outcomes, new research by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) has found.

Sub-optimal sleep duration has long been linked with poor health outcomes. Previous studies have found that getting too much sleep, or too little, are risk factors for a range of health issues, including premature mortality, various chronic diseases and mental health problems.

TILDA is an ongoing study of people over the age of 50 in Ireland and its researchers decided to look into the impact of sleep duration on this population.

The recommended sleep range for adults aged 26 to 64 is seven to nine hours, while the average for those aged 65 and older is seven to eight hours. The study found that adults aged 50 and older in Ireland slept for an average of seven hours and 42 minutes per night.

While the majority of adults slept within the recommended range, the researchers found that 17% were sleeping for longer than recommended, while 14% were not getting enough sleep.

Overall, poor health was more likely to be linked with shorter sleep compared to good health.

Meanwhile, the study also noted that retired and unemployed people, and those on anti-depressant medication, tended to record longer sleep periods. People who undertook moderate or high physical activity tended to have normal sleep.

According to TILDA principal investigator, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, sleep duration "is an important contributor to physical and mental health".

"There are a number of behaviours which if changed, can improve sleep quality and duration. These apply to all age groups, but particularly mature adults, almost one-third of whom experience impaired sleep duration according to our recent data.

"Awareness of medications which change sleep quality and duration, and changes in habits before bed, can help to regulate sleep duration and overall benefit physical and brain health," she explained.

According to the study's lead author, Siobhan Scarlett, awareness of this issue is important.

"While sleep duration is not recognised as a public health concern, this research highlights an important subset of Irish adults who are not meeting the recommended guidelines for sleep duration and are at increased risk of negative health outcomes.

"Awareness of the impact of sub-optimal sleep duration and factors potentially driving these patterns, particularly those which are modifiable, is important," she insisted.

She added that addressing the underlying causes of poor sleep patterns "may help to facilitate improvements in the health and wellbeing of our older population".

Details of these findings are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


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