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Sleep May Improve with Age, Study Suggests

BananaStock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- While it's a common belief that getting older means less sleep and more fatigue, a new study suggests that older adults may actually enjoy better sleep than their younger counterparts.

Researchers conducted phone surveys of more than 150,000 Americans and found that people in their 80s had the fewest complaints about sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue compared to other age groups.  The study appears in the March edition of the journal Sleep.

Reports of poor sleep were associated with health problems and depression, and women said they had more sleep disturbances and were more tired than men.  The quality of sleep improved throughout the life span, although there was a small increase in sleep difficulties during middle age.

"These results suggest that the often-reported increase in sleep problems is a non-linear phenomenon, mediated by factors other than physiologic aging," wrote the authors, led by Michael Grandner of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

While older adults in this study reported having less trouble sleeping, previous research has found that the total amount of sleep generally decreased with age by around 10 minutes per decade.  The same research also found that older adults experienced less slow-wave sleep, considered by some experts to be "good" sleep.

"This highlights the difference between what we see when we look at someone's sleep and what they tell us when we ask about their sleep," Grandner told ABC News in an email, and there could be a number of reasons for the discrepancy.

"Perhaps with other pain or health issues going on, especially if they have been going on for a long time, which is common in older age, those older people don't really see their sleep as a problem, compared to everything else," Grandner said.  "They might also have attitudes and beliefs about sleep that don't place much importance on getting a good night's sleep.  After all, we live in a 'sleep when I'm dead' society that seems to think that sleep is for sissies."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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