Older people advised that taking an afternoon nap can lead to more active lives

Monday 25 October 2010

Older people should not feel guilty about napping during the day if it allows them to keep active and busy when they are feeling less tired, new research reveals. Experts at the University of Surrey discovered that many older people felt that they may be branded lazy for taking afternoon naps so they tried hard to avoid nodding off.

But the occasional nap can make older people more able to lead a fully active life by giving them enough energy to take part in recreational and social activities.

Susan Venn, of the Department of Sociology said: “Sleep is central to health and well-being, but as people get older, the quality of their sleep can deteriorate. They shouldn’t feel guilty or think themselves lazy for having a nap.”

The new research also found that as older people often have more disturbed sleep patterns at night they try to avoid taking a nap during the day only to fall asleep watching television during the early evening. As a result they may end up feeling exhausted..

Another finding was that older men and women lose sleep because of having to get up several times a night to go to the toilet, so they may cut down on drinking fluids during the day believing this will help, even though they may become dehydrated.

One interviewee, called Anne, aged 71, from Berkshire, said “My main sleep problem is waking up in the early hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep.

“I sometimes find on a particularly bad night that I’m awake for three or four hours. I don’t want to disturb my husband by tossing and turning, and trying to get back to sleep, so I tend to get up and do the housework, watch DVDs or use the computer.

“Sleep at the moment is a disappointment I suppose, because I feel I’ve improved my life style by doing all the things, diet, exercise and all this, and I’d hoped that the sleep would improve more than it has.”

Susan Venn, of the Department of Sociology, a researcher on the project, explained: “Many of the older people we talked to described how disturbed their sleep was, especially in terms of waking up a lot in the night.

“Anne was like many of the older people we spoke to in that being active during the day was very important to them, and if they slept badly, it impacted on how much could be achieved.

“Many older people are prescribed medications to help them sleep, but research has shown that sleeping medication may impact on the lives of older people, such as increasing the risk of falls.”

The new research called “Understanding poor sleep in the community” is linked to an academic conference on sleep issues among older people, based on the SomnIA (Sleep in Ageing) project (www.somnia.surrey.ac.uk).

The research by academics at the University of Surrey, along with colleagues at other institutions, tried to find ways of improving the sleep patterns of older people.

Researchers talked to 62 older men and women who are living in their own homes about their poor sleep patterns and three key findings emerged:

• Whilst many older people do not sleep well and feel tired during the day, they often do not want to take a nap because they believe daytime sleeping is a sign of laziness.
• Older people often get up in the night to go to the toilet, sometimes even several times a night. So, counter to current advice to drink plenty of fluids during the day, they may often severely restrict how much they drink.

• Older men and women would rather not visit their doctor for problems with their sleep, largely because of a concern they will be prescribed some form of sleeping medication. Keeping busy and active is important to many older people and they are concerned that sleeping medication may take away that control. Women, more than men, tended to explore alternative treatments and remedies for poor sleep, such as over the counter remedies and herbal medicines.

Notes to Editors:

The research is linked to a conference called ‘Sleep, Well-Being and Active Ageing: New Evidence for Policy and Practice’ to be held on Thursday 28th October 2010, Church House Conference Centre, Westminster, London.
See http://www.somnia.surrey.ac.uk/conferences.html for further information about invited speakers and programme.

The SomnIA project is a collaboration between the University of Surrey, King’s College, London, the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering at the University of Bath and the University of Loughborough.

Other Project Partners are Age UK, University of Oxford, Philips Lighting,
Nottinghamshire Health Care NHS Trust and the Relatives and Residents Association.

This four year Collaborative Research Project is funded under the New Dynamics of Ageing Initiative (NDA) (see http://www.newdynamics.group.shef.ac.uk/) by the five UK Research Councils (Arts and Humanities Research Council, Biology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economics and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council). The NDA initiative is a seven year research programme, and is the largest and most ambitious research programme on ageing ever mounted in the UK.

Media enquiries: Howard Wheeler, Media Relations Office at the University of Surrey, Tel: 01483 686141 or E-mail: h.wheeler@surrey.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:
The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s leading professional, scientific and technological universities with a world class research profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Ground-breaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space science, the environment, communications, defence and social policy. Programmes in science and technology have gained widespread recognition and it also boasts flourishing programmes in dance and music, social sciences, management and languages and law. In addition to the campus on 150 hectares just outside Guildford, Surrey, the University also owns and runs the Surrey Research Park, which provides facilities for 140 companies employing 2,700 staff.

The Sunday Times names Surrey as ‘The University for Jobs' which underlines the university’s growing reputation for providing high quality, relevant degrees. Surrey is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience. www.1994group.ac.uk

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