A new study led by the University of Exeter has linked participants’ poor sleep patterns with feelings of being older than their age

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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 50 years of age and older.

‘This research is an important part of the growing body of evidence about the crucial role of sleep in healthy ageing,’ said one of the authors of the study, Professor Clive Ballard, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean for Medicine at the University of Exeter.

The research was conducted on top of the PROTECT study, run by the University of Exeter and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King’s College London, and funded by the National Institute for Health Research. 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, 1 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 (for example, demographic variables, anxiety, depression, daily function), participants who felt less alert after awakening (P<0.001; coefficient of determination [R2]=1%), less satisfied with their sleep (P<0.001; R2=0.04%), had less deep sleep (P<0.001; R2=0.03%), and awakened more times during the night (P<0.002; R2=0.02%), felt older than their age.

Participants who experienced difficulty in falling asleep or early awakening showed no significance in subjective age discrepancy. A follow up 1 year later also demonstrated similar results.

‘Our research suggests that poor sleepers feel older, and have a more negative perception of their ageing,’ said 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.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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