Sleep Disorders

02 October 2009

Old women sleep more, moan more

Older women may complain about their sleepless nights more than men do, but new research shows they're actually catching more Z's.

Older women may complain about their sleepless nights more than men do, but new research shows they're actually catching more Z's.

Meanwhile, older men say their sleep is more restful than it really is. "Men completely, and much more than women, overestimate the quality of their sleep," said Dr Henning Tiemeier of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, who led the study.

In fact, he added, it's not so much that women grumble more about their restless nights, but that they're simply more accurate in describing them.

Women of all ages are more likely to say they have insomnia and other sleep problems than men, Tiemeier and his colleagues note in the journal Sleep. But studies looking at gender differences in sleep have had mixed results.

How the study was done
The researchers looked at 956 men and women 59 to 97 years old participating in the Rotterdam Study, a long-term community-based study analogous to the Framingham Study of heart health in the US.

For six nights in a row, study participants kept a sleep diary, estimating how long they'd slept and how long it took them to fall asleep on the previous night.

At the same time, they wore a device called an actigraph on their wrists to measure when they were resting peacefully and when they were tossing, turning and otherwise moving around.

Men said they averaged seven hours of sleep a night, while women thought they got about six hours and 45 minutes of sleep every night. Men said it took them 20 minutes to fall asleep, and women said it took them half an hour.

What the results showed
But according to the actigraphs, the men were actually sleeping a bit less than six-and-a-half hours, while the women were logging about 15 minutes more.

Men also woke up more often frequently during the night.

The men drank twice as much alcohol as the women, which accounted for some of their worse sleep quality, but not all of it, the researchers found.

As people get older, Tiemeier said, they tend to sleep less, and to sleep more lightly. But this doesn't mean we all have insomnia to look forward to, he added. "There are many people that sleep well and it's not a dramatic process. It's there but it's not necessarily dramatic."

Adding to the problem, he added, is the fact that older people often go to bed very early, and nap during the day. For a more restful night, Tiemeier advises, older people should realise they may need to sleep less and go to bed a bit later, and avoid snoozing away the day. – (Reuters Health, October 2009)

Read more:
Long sleepers risk dementia
Good nights sleep in the genes


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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