Having a hard time sleeping? It might be your age.

StayWell Blog, StayWell News

By Stefan Gingerich, MS, StayWell’s senior research analyst

Perhaps you’re like me and you remember a sleeping sweet spot in your late teens and early 20’s, when sleep felt exactly the way it was supposed to. You were past the sleep disturbances of childhood, and not yet to the stressors that tend to crop up as you move away from your 20’s or the aches and pains that become more common in our senior years.

It was great, and there are times when it starts to feel like a dream. Because at a certain age, a good night’s sleep gets harder and harder to come by. Check out this chart below and answer this trivia question:

When it comes to sleep, people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s:
A. Are more likely to get 5 and 6 hours of sleep per night
B. Are less likely to get 8 hours of sleep per night
C. All of the above

The answer, unfortunately, is C.

According to health assessments completed by StayWell program participants, people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s are both more likely to get 6 or fewer hours of sleep, and less likely to get 8 hours of sleep. This is somewhat expected, but it means that they’re at odds with the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations. Not only that, but they’re at higher risk of problems at work due to poor sleep. In fact, StayWell has found that people who don’t get enough sleep tend to miss more work days due to illness, and be less productive when they’re at work. That’s a problem for employers, since most people in the workforce are between 30 and 60 years old.

So, what happens in our 30’s to ruin our peaceful slumber? The short answer is “It depends.” Some of the change is situational – late-night fun or study sessions in college, caring for babies and their unpredictable sleep schedules in young adulthood. Some of it is gradual – exercise is more difficult so you don’t do it as much, your bed gets older, you get older.

And as you age, you face different demands at work. Maybe the hours change as you build your career. Maybe you experience different stressors in your life. It’s important for employers to realize that each person’s stressors and, consequently, each person’s reasons for losing sleep are unique. A new employee putting in long hours while working a part-time job and taking care of a new baby has a different sleep schedule than someone whose career and family are more established. Likewise, someone caring for an elderly parent while financially supporting a couple of headstrong teenagers is going to have different habits, too.

Understanding how the pressures on our sleep schedules change over time – and helping employees understand what that means for their own sleep habits – can go a long way toward improving sleep habits and, perhaps, productivity and health.

As we’ve seen before, sleep habits tend to be associated with productivity and health. A solution like the new StayWell Sleep Well challenge can help employees identify their sleep schedules and appreciate the impact sleep has in other areas of their lives, while making it more likely they’ll be awake and alert at work.

But, there’s more to it than just work and families. Our biology changes as we age. We get tired earlier, we wake up earlier, and we spend less time in that deep, impossible-to-wake-up-even-with-an-air-horn sleep young children seem to fall into so easily. The older we get, the easier it is to jar us awake. That’s bad news.

Meeting the challenges at any age
So, what’s the solution? Everyone is different. The youngsters don’t necessarily have it easier, but neither do their elders. Men don’t necessarily have it better than women, or vice versa, at least not as it relates to sleep. Making sure everyone is at peak alertness when they’re at work means making sure everyone has a handle on their own sleep cycles and how it affects them in their daily lives.

A program like the new StayWell Sleep Well, which offers tools that provide insights into our sleep habits, can go a long way toward giving people a clearer picture of how the quality of their sleep affects the quality of their work. Better yet, it addresses the needs of each individual, rather than providing generic recommendations like, “Get 8 hours of sleep.”

StayWell Sleep Well offers helpful insights into sleep habits and the effect those habits can have on the rest of our lives. It offers information about the links between sleep and weight gain, and between sleep and stress, as well as information on the benefits of napping and tools that help individual understand and adjust their own sleep habits.

The articles, videos and other resources in StayWell Sleep Well are designed to build a better understanding of both the importance of sleep and how to improve sleep habits.

Stay tuned for future blogs on the benefits of sleep and how it affects health. In the meantime, contact engage@staywell.com to learn more.

In good health,
Stefan Gingerich, MS
Senior Research Analyst

Related posts by Stefan Gingerich, MS on the topic of sleep:

Is lack of sleep weighing you down?
A peek behind the science and health impact of sleep
When counting sheep doesn’t work