Poor sleep habits may change consumers' outlook on aging, study finds

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Not getting enough sleep can make consumers feel older than they really are

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter explored how consumers’ sleeping habits may affect how they view getting older. According to their findings, consistently not getting enough sleep may make consumers feel older than they are and can make them feel worse about aging. 

“As we age, we all experience both positive and negative changes in many areas of our lives,” said researcher Serena Sabatini. “However, some people have more negative changes than others. As we know that having a negative perception of aging can be detrimental to future physical health, mental health, and cognitive health, an open question in aging research is to understand what makes people more negative about aging. 

“Our research suggests that poor sleepers feel older, and have a more negative perception of their aging. 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 aging, which could have other health benefits.”  

Changing our outlook on aging

For the study, the researchers surveyed over 4,400 adults over the age of 50 involved in the PROTECT study. The team put together a questionnaire that focused on the participants’ sleeping patterns and asked questions about their quality of sleep, memory function, and motivation, among other key factors. To track how sleep habits affected aging, participants completed the surveys twice with one year in between. 

The researchers learned that participants who struggled with sleep also struggled to have a positive outlook on getting older. The study showed that there were several factors that contributed to poor sleep, including waking up frequently during the night, having difficulty falling asleep, struggling to be alert in the morning, not getting deep sleep, and having poor overall sleep satisfaction. Not feeling awake and alert in the morning was associated with the worst outlook on aging. 

Overall, nearly 50% of the participants reported dissatisfaction with their sleep. This translated to feeling worse about aging and getting older, as well as feeling older than their chronological age. Participants who struggled the most with sleep were the most likely to notice negative changes in their mental and physical health over time. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that addressing issues with sleep in middle age can help consumers improve their mood, health, and well-being. They also plan to continue doing work in this area to better understand how sleep habits can impact consumers’ relationships with aging.

“This research is an important part of the growing body of evidence about the crucial role of sleep in healthy aging,” said researcher Clive Ballard. “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 optimize sleep in some particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with dementia in care homes.” 

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