Negative Feelings of Ageing Linked to Poor Sleep

Zarrin Hossain

November 23, 2021

The quality of sleep has an important role in our perception of ageing, according to a new study led by the University of Exeter, which looked at online questionnaires from 4481 participants aged 50 years and older.

“This research is an important part of the growing body of evidence about the crucial role of sleep in healthy ageing,” said Professor Clive Ballard, University of Exeter.

This study was conducted on top of the PROTECT study, run by the University of Exeter and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, & Neuroscience at King's College London and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The  PROTECT study looks at what helps people stay cognitively healthy in later life using online cognitive tests and lifestyle questionnaires. Researchers noticed that many PROTECT participants were commenting on sleep patterns in filling out the questionnaires.

As a result, the research team conducted two questionnaires looking specifically at sleep, which the participants completed twice, one year apart. Participants were asked whether they had experienced any negative age-related changes, such as: decreased motivation, declining memory, increased dependence on the help of others, less energy, and having to limit their activities.

The findings, published in  Behavioural Sleep Medicine , showed that, before adjusting for covariates (e.g. demographic variables, anxiety, depression, daily function), participants who felt less alert after awakening (P <0.001; R2 = 1%), less satisfied with one's sleep (P <0.001; R2 = 0.04%), having less deep sleep (P <0.001; R2 = 0.03%), and awakening more times during the night (P <0.002; R2 = 0.02%), felt younger than their age.

Participants who experienced difficulty in falling asleep or early awakening showed no significance in subjective age discrepancy. A follow-up one-year later also demonstrated similar results.

“Our research suggests that poor sleepers feel older, and have a more negative perception of their ageing" said study lead author, Dr Serena Sabatini. "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 ageing, which could have other health benefits.”

"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 optimise sleep in some particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with dementia in care homes," added Professor Ballard.

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