Published On: Mon, Oct 3rd, 2016

Chronic insomnia linked to disability later in life

sleep-deprivationA new study has linked chronic sleep problems in adults to a higher rate of difficulties performing routine tasks in later life.

Previous research has linked poor sleep to poor health, but little is known about how sleep affects daily functioning, said lead author Elliot Friedman, a gerontologist at Indiana’s Purdue University.

Friedman investigated by analysing survey data collected in 1995-1996 and again in 2004-2006 from 3,620 people between the ages of 24 and 75 at the outset.

The participants answered questions about any sleep issues they had experienced in the past year and their ability to perform everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing, and walking one block.

They also reported on their ability to perform more difficult “instrumental” tasks such as carrying groceries, vacuuming, climbing stairs, walking a mile, or running.

About 11 percent of participants reported chronic sleep issues at both surveys.

Those with poor sleep at the first survey were 55 percent more likely than people who slept well to report greater limits on their daily activities a decade later, and 28 percent more likely to have increased difficulty with instrumental tasks.

Among those who were disability-free at the time of the first survey, those who had sleep issues were twice as likely to be having trouble with daily tasks 10 years later and 70 percent more likely to develop trouble with instrumental tasks.

To eliminate the possibility of other causes, the researchers also looked at other potential influences on disability such as health conditions, obesity, smoking and demographic factors.

While age had no effect on the changes in daily living tasks between the two surveys, younger and middle aged people with sleep issues saw greater declines for the more advanced instrumental tasks.

Offering a possible explanation for the findings, Friedman said: “If sleep is not restful, people are less likely to be physically active, and both low physical activity and sedentary behaviour are risk factors for disability.”

He added that trouble with sleep is also linked to obesity and inflammation, which both increase the risk of disability.

“Greater focus on adequate sleep could have broad health benefits, including reducing peoples’ risk of disability as they age into their later years,” Friedman noted.

Although disability rates have been falling, up to one in five seniors are said to have at least one limitation in their ability to perform tasks.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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