Poor sleepers feel older and have more negative perceptions of aging, research finds

Poor sleep in those over 50 is linked to more negative perceptions of aging, which in turn can impact physical, mental and cognitive health, new research has found.

A study by the University of Exeter found that people who rated their sleep the worst also felt older and perceived their own physical and mental aging more negatively.

Senior author Serena Sabatini, University of Exeter, said: “As we age, we all experience 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, mental and cognitive health, an open question in aging research is to understand what makes people more negative about aging. aging. perception of their aging. We need to study this further – one explanation could be that a more negative perspective influences both. However, it could be a sign that resolving sleep difficulties could promote a better perception of aging, which could have other health benefits. “

The researchers interviewed 4,482 people aged 50 and over who were part of the PROTECT study. Managed by the University of Exeter and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, and funded by the Maudsley Biomedical Research Center at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), PROTECT is a study in innovative line in which participants take regular cognitive tests and comprehensive lifestyle questionnaires. The study aims to understand what helps people stay cognitively healthy later in life.

The research team noticed that many PROTECT participants commented on their relationship to sleep as part of standard questionnaires within the study. Comments included: “The way I feel varies greatly depending on how I sleep. I feel good if I have six hours, so about half the time I feel younger and half the time I feel older. old !”

Another comment read: “I have chronic pain problems and I get very little sleep which has a huge impact on my life.”

Following these comments, the team decided to conduct a questionnaire specifically on sleep. In research published in Behavioral sleep medicine, participants were asked if they had experienced a list of negative age-related changes, such as lower memory, less energy, increased dependence on help from others, reduced motivation, and limitation of their activities. They also assessed their quality of sleep. Participants completed both questionnaires twice, one year apart.

This research is an important part of the growing body of evidence on the crucial role of sleep in healthy aging. We now need more people to sign up for PROTECT, to help us better understand this. We have some exciting trials coming up on how to optimize sleep in some particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with dementia in nursing homes. “

Professor Clive Ballard, University of Exeter

The article is entitled “Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Associations between Subjective Sleep Difficulties and Self-Perceptions of Aging”, published in Behavioral sleep medicine. The research is the result of a doctorate funded by the Center for Excellence in Cognitive Health Research of the Australian National Council for Health and Medical Research.


Journal reference:

Sabatini, S., et al. (2021) Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between subjective sleep difficulties and self-perception of aging. Behavioral sleep medicine. doi.org/10.1080/15402002.2021.1994405.

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