Benefits of Sound Sleep for Older Adults

A good night's sleep yields multiple benefits: Not only does it help you stay alert and energetic throughout the day, it can also help prevent heart disease and diabetes, lower your risk of infection, improve mental function and even help control your weight. Now you can add another benefit to that list of dividends: Sleeping restfully throughout the night may lower your odds of being placed in a nursing home.

A study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reports that older women who regularly wake after they go to bed and have trouble falling back to sleep may be two to three times as likely to be admitted to a nursing home or assisted living facility than women who sleep peacefully at night.

Lower sleep efficiency—the proportion of time you spend asleep while you're in bed—has been shown in past studies to be associated with disabilities such as reduced mobility and impaired function when performing activities or tasks. This latest study suggests that the consequences of inefficient sleep may be linked in part to future placement in a long-term care setting.

Aging's impact on sleep

Most adults need seven to eight hours of high-quality sleep. But high-quality sleep doesn't always come easy to many older adults, especially the elderly, who tend to have more fragmented sleep.

As we age, our bodies produce less of the hormone melatonin, which helps us sleep. We may naturally begin to wake more often during the night and earlier in the morning. The deep stages of sleep that our bodies need to feel well rested the next day become shorter.

The Hopkins study, published in the July 2012 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, set out to determine whether a correlation exists between sleep and the ability of older adults to live independently.

Using data from a broader investigation on aging, researchers evaluated the sleep habits of 1,664 women whose average age was 83. The participants' risk of nursing home placement within five years of the evaluation increased as the length of time they spent in bed awake after sleep onset increased, even when researchers adjusted the results to account for health conditions that could affect sleep.

In contrast, the number of hours spent sleeping—an important distinction—had no effect on risk. Although the researchers couldn't establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between poor sleep and future nursing home placement, their findings are of enough concern to warrant continued research in this area to identify the mechanisms that link inefficient sleep to loss of independence.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 21 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 22 Jul 2013