A survey of sleep patterns and habits by Sleep Health Foundation, an Australia-based advocate for sleep health, has revealed consumption of caffeine and alcohol increases steadily with age. As a result, people aged over 55 are waking an average of 2.5 times each night, disruptions that affect sleep quality.
David Hillman, MBBS, FANZCA, FRCP(Edin), FRACP(Hon), president of the Sleep Health Foundation, says the findings are concerning given older people naturally have a more disturbed sleep, a known developmental change linked to aging. “It seems that older people are not doing themselves any favors drinking lots of alcohol and coffee, mood-altering substances which have been proven to be detrimental to a good night’s sleep,” Hillman says in a release. “As they age, people should really be consuming less of these, not more.”
The warning coincides with the daylight savings time change in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory, during which residents put their clocks forward one hour at 2 AM.
The Spring forward clock change robs people of an hour’s sleep that night but studies show the impact of this seemingly small one-hour shift in the sleep cycle can affect sleep for up to a week. “We’re concerned this change can take an even tougher toll on older people who are already dealing with heavily disrupted sleeps,” Hillman says.
The online survey of 1,050 people, including 730 women, found that Australians are getting 7 hours 18 minutes sleep a night on average, on the lower end of the Foundation’s recommended healthy range.
Those aged over 55 got slightly less, 6 hours, 50 minutes a night, and admitted to waking 2.5 times a night on average, mostly to go to the toilet, or due to a busy mind, body aches, or partner disturbance. Ninety percent drank coffee; 52% drank alcohol, 15% had sleeping tablets, all figures that were lower among young and middle-aged people. They also reported consuming larger quantities of caffeine than other age groups.
“Our advice is if you’re struggling with your sleep, and you’ve got a bit of coffee and alcohol in your diet, experiment with having less. You could be very pleasantly surprised to find yourself sleeping better,” says Hillman, a respiratory and sleep medicine physician.
He also has advice around the clock change to help all Australians make the move into daylight savings more smoothly. “If you can, get into the habit of hitting the hay about the same time each night,” Hillman says. “It will take the unpredictability out of bedtime and train your brain to know when to start preparing for sleep, making the daylight saving clock change a much easier adjustment for your body.”