Aging individuals generally experience objective changes in sleep, including poor sleep quality, increased sleep fragmentation, time is taken to fall asleep, and daytime sleepiness. These changes are due to age-related natural biological changes and the poorer health that individuals tend to experience while aging.
Sleep deprivation can eventually cause confusion and other mental changes. A new study by the University of Exeter suggests that poor sleep in the over 50s is linked to more negative perceptions of aging, which in turn can impact physical, mental, and cognitive health.
For the study, scientists used data from the PROTECT cohort study, which involved 4,482 UK residents aged 50 and over. The participants were asked to complete awareness measures of age-related change, subjective age, mood, daily function, and subjective sleep difficulties.
The research team noticed that many PROTECT participants commented on their relationship with sleep as part of standard questionnaires within the study.
Lead author Serena Sabatini of the University of Exeter said: “As we age, we all experience both positive and negative changes in many areas of our lives. However, some people perceive more negative changes than others. As we know that having a negative perception of aging can be detrimental to future physical health, mental health, and cognitive health, an open question in aging research is to understand what makes people more negative about aging.”
“Our research suggests that poor sleepers feel older and have a more negative perception of their aging. We need to study this further – one explanation could be that a more negative outlook influences both. However, it could be a sign that addressing sleep difficulties could promote a better perception of aging, which could have other health benefits.”
Many participants commented on their relationship with sleep as part of standard questionnaires within the study. Considering those comments, scientists decided to conduct a questionnaire looking specifically at sleep.
This time, participants were asked about their experiences on a list of negative age-related changes, such as poorer memory, less energy, increased dependence on the help of others, decreased motivation, and limiting their activities. They also rated their quality of sleep. The participants completed both questionnaires twice, one year apart.
Professor Clive Ballard of the University of Exeter said: “This research is an important part of the growing body of evidence about the crucial role of sleep in healthy aging. We now need more people to sign up to PROTECT to help us understand this further. We’ve got some exciting trials ahead on how to optimize sleep in some particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with dementia in care homes.”
- Serena Sabatini et al. Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Associations between Subjective Sleep Difficulties and Self-Perceptions of Aging. DOI: 10.1080/15402002.2021.1994405