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For Seniors, It's Sleep Quality Not Quantity That Counts

For Seniors, It’s Sleep Quality Not Quantity That Counts

A new study from the University of Chicago finds that older adults’ insomnia may stem from the quality of rest and other health concerns more than the overall amount of sleep that patients get.

Insomnia is defined as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. Waking up too early and then not feeling well rested during the daytime is also associated with insomnia.

Complaints of increased insomnia often accompany the aging process as studies have suggest that nearly 50 percent of older adults report at least one insomnia symptom.

Experts believe a lack of restorative sleep might be linked to heart disease, falls, and declines in cognitive and daytime functioning.

The new study compared findings from a wrist actigraphy — a wristwatch-like sensor that monitors sleep patterns and movements — to sleep perceptions reported in a sleep booklet.

Investigators analyzed findings from 727 participants who were randomly invited to participate in an “Activity and Sleep Study.”

As published online by Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, researchers found differences between what was self-reported in the diary to what was actually measured by the actigraph.

The activity and sleep study had two components: the sleep diary, which included questions about the person’s sleep experience, (e.g., “how often do you feel really rested when you wake up in the morning?”) and 72-hours of wearing the wrists monitor.

An author on the study, Linda Waite, Ph.D., said the researchers wanted to objectively evaluate several aspects of older adults’ sleep characteristics, which is why they used the actigraphs in addition to the survey questions.

“Older adults may complain of waking up too early and not feeling rested despite accumulating substantial hours of sleep,” Waite said.

The actigraph measurements showed that most of the older adults receive sufficient amounts of sleep.

Survey findings also challenged prevailing opinion as only 13 percent of older adults in the study said that they rarely or never feel rested when waking up in the morning.

Additional self-perceptions of sleep included:

  • about 12 percent reported often having trouble falling asleep;
  • 30 percent indicated they regularly had problems with waking up during the night.

The actigraph provided data that showed the average duration of sleep period among the study participants was 7.9 hours and the average total sleep time was 7.25 hours.

Waite said this indicates that the majority of older adults are getting the recommended amount of sleep and usually not having common sleep problems.

One other unexpected finding for the researchers was that respondents who reported waking up more frequently during the night had more total sleep time.

“This suggests that a question about feeling rested may tap into other aspects of older adults’ everyday health or psychological experience,” said Waite.

Researchers believe the subjective sleep complaints may be associated with quality of life issues or other problems.

“Our findings suggest that reports of what seem like specific sleep problems from survey questions may be more accurately viewed as indicators of general problems or dissatisfaction with sleep that may be due to other issues in their lives affecting their overall well-being,” Waite said.

“These survey questions and actigraphy may measure different aspects of sleep experience.”

Source: University of Chicago

Elderly man with insomnia photo by shutterstock.

For Seniors, It’s Sleep Quality Not Quantity That Counts

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). For Seniors, It’s Sleep Quality Not Quantity That Counts. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 9 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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