Emerging research suggests obtaining an appropriate amount of sleep may be one of the most important factors for well-being. Unfortunately, only one in three adults receives enough sleep and obtaining an adequate amount of sleep becomes more difficult as we age.
A new research study now finds that older adults who have trouble sleeping, could benefit from participating in social activities, in particular attending religious events.
University of Missouri researchers discovered maintaining social connections may be the answer to helping older adults receive optimal sleep.
The study appears in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine.
“Social connectedness is a key component for health and well-being for older adults,” said Jen-Hao Chen, assistant professor of health sciences at the University of Missouri School of Health Professions and the Truman School of Public Affairs.
“Close connections to, and participation in, social groups provides a sense of belonging and can be essential for healthy aging.”
Yet despite past attention to the link between social participation and many different health outcomes, little research has been dedicated to linking social participation and another critical health outcome for older adults — sleep.
To study the relationship between sleep and social participation for older adults, Chen analyzed two waves of data collected over a five year period from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project.
He looked at three aspects of social participation; volunteering, attending religious services, and being part of organized group activities.
He then compared the data to how soundly people slept as assessed by actigraphy — wearable wrist sleep trackers that record movements that can be used to estimate sleep parameters with specialized algorithms in computer software programs.
Results showed that older adults with greater levels of social participation were getting better sleep.
However, Chen says despite the strong associations between social participation and sleep, social participation does not necessarily lead to better sleep.
The strong associations he found could also be due to those already sleeping well may feel well enough to be more active socially. His future research on sleep will continue to use innovative sleep measurements to understand the role various social relationships have on sleep behaviors and outcomes.
“When it comes to the discussion of healthy lifestyle, being socially connected and sleeping well are not often mentioned together,” Chen said.
“Yet sleep, just like physical activity and diet, can have significant impacts on our health outcomes, and is profoundly affected by our everyday social life. To promote sleep health we must consider a comprehensive approach that emphasizes the role of engaging in our communities, as well as getting enough and better sleep.”