Margaret Jennings why those 40 winks are important to your health.


Ageing With Attitude: Hold back the years by sinking into sleep

Having even one night of disrupted shut-eye could age us, research shows. A sleep expert tells Margaret Jennings why those 40 winks are important to your health.

Ageing With Attitude: Hold back the years by sinking into sleep

HAVING trouble sleeping? Then you may be adding on years, as you lose those 40 winks.

Previous research has indicated that a constant lack of sleep can make us age before our time, but a new study suggests that even one sleepless night can accelerate ageing in older adults.

Blood tests taken from participants aged 61 to 86, who were subjected to one night’s partial sleep deprivation during a four-night study, revealed a type of cell damage which has been linked to premature ageing.

The lead author of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study, Professor Judith Carroll said: “Our data support the hypothesis that one night of not getting enough sleep in older adults activates important biological pathways that promote biological ageing.”

The suggestion that having one night’s disrupted sleep could age us is enough to have us all tossing and turning in bed, but who are the most likely to suffer among older people and what can they do to get their pro-ageing ‘beauty’ sleep?

Sleep physiologist Breege Leddy, who works at the Bon Secours Hospital in Dublin, says that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from insomnia.


Hormonal changes can disrupt the normal sleep wake cycle which is known as the circadian rhythm.

Our core body temperature plays a role in the regulation of the sleep cycle and they may experience nocturnally elevated core body temperature which may result in night time awakenings.

During the menopause anxiety levels can also increase and along with this higher levels of the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol is produced. It has been proven that insomniacs have increased levels of cortisol.


Lack of routine plays a big role in the trigger for insomnia and this often slips when people leave the daily grind.

“Our circadian rhythm is determined by zeitgebers — these give us our sense of time, for example alarm clocks, meal times, work schedules and natural daylight and with the loss of these it can lead to disregulation of the sleep wake cycle,” says Leddy.

“People who have previously been shift workers, in particular, have problems with their sleep upon retirement.”

Depression can also be common in retirees and, like anxiety and worry, can contribute to the disruption of the cycle.


Older adults are more likely to suffer from medical conditions and this can cause night-time disruption. But medications used to treat some of these disorders can also cause changes in the sleep pattern, says the sleep physiologist.

But how much is enough as we age? The National Sleep Foundation’s latest world-class study, which took two years to research, expanded the recommended number of hours for each age category to acknowledge individual variability in appropriate sleep deviations.

Their ideal recommendation for adults up to age 64 is seven to nine hours max, though six “may be appropriate”, and for adults 65-plus seven to eight hours is best, though five to six “may be appropriate”.

Our sleep pattern is a very organised process and if we are getting enough of it for our age then we should not feel the need to nap, says Breege. However, for older adults that have problems sleeping at night they may need to have a nap in order to feel more refreshed.

Breege Leddy’s tips to stave off sleepless nights:

1. Set an alarm clock and get up at the same time every morning even if retired. This is important, along with regular meal times and daytime routines, to help stabilise the body clock.

2. Light is the biggest influence on our body clock. Exposure to natural daylight, particularly early in the morning and dim light in the evenings, is extremely important as we age.

3. Bedroom environment: Keep it quiet and in complete darkness — no reading, TV, radio, or smart devices should be allowed.

4. Avoid clock watching — keep the clock as far away from the bed as possible where you can’t see the time. This means that if you can’t sleep or wake up during the night you don’t start to panic about the time.

5. Limit yourself to two caffeine products per day and no later than 2pm.

6. If you really need to nap limit it to 20 minutes and do it earlier in the day.

7. Nicotine and alcohol should be avoided prior to bedtime.

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