Study finds complaints of nonrestorative sleep and early rising decreased among pensioners who had poor health and stressful work lives.
As work worries abate, sleep difficulties may also diminish when workers make the transition to retirement, according to a recent study from Finland.
In particular, complaints of nonrestorative sleep and waking up too early in the morning decreased significantly, especially among pensioners who had poor health and stressful work lives before retirement, researchers found.
“People reported experiencing more early morning awakenings and nonrestorative sleep during the final working years than after retirement,” said lead author Saana Myllyntausta, a psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Turku.
Sleep is considered nonrestorative when a person is still tired after sleeping seven to eight hours. Sleep difficulties and short sleep cycles are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and early death, Myllyntausta and her colleagues note in the journal Sleep.
“This study would suggest that sleep quality, a key component of our health, is considerably poorer during the working years,” Myllyntausta told Reuters Health by email.
The study team analyzed survey data from 5,800 Finnish public sector employees who retired on a statutory basis between 2000 and 2011. Mandatory retirement age specified in the public sector worker pension law was generally 63 to 65 until 2004, the researchers note. In 2005, it was expanded to ages 63 to 68, except for certain worker categories such as primary schoolteachers, for whom mandatory retirement is at age 60.
Every four years, the participants responded to surveys and for the current study, researchers analyzed their responses during the years just before retirement and in the transitional years right afterward.
In the final survey before retirement, 30 percent of the employees reported sleep difficulties, but after retirement, 26 percent reported sleep problems. In the years immediately following retirement, the likelihood of sleep problems dropped 11 percent overall compared to the final years of work.
In particular, waking up too early was 24 percent less likely and non-restorative sleep fell by 53 percent. Little change was seen in difficulties falling asleep or maintaining sleep, however.
In general, sleep duration increased by about 20 minutes after retirement, and for those who had sleep difficulties or were heavy alcohol users before retirement, sleep increased by 45 minutes.
The researchers note that sleep difficulties before retirement occurred more noticeably in those with poorer health, shorter sleep times, psychological stress and job strain.
“Retirement from work is a great opportunity to make positive changes in sleep, as working hours no longer dominate sleep timing and work-related stresses are removed,” Myllyntausta said. “People can make sure they get an adequate amount of restorative sleep.”
This research is part of the overall Finnish Retirement and Aging study, which follows aging workers with wearable activity and sleep monitors from final working years into retirement.
“What we have learned about aging and sleep up to now comes mainly from studies comparing young adults with elderly people, which somewhat neglect sleep changes in middle age,” said Dr. Jean-Claude Marquie of the University of Toulouse in France who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Yet, aging is a developmental process which takes place throughout adulthood,” Marquie told Reuters Health by email. “The failure of studies to examine these middle years means that it is unclear whether changes in habits, sleep length and quality of sleep occur gradually or only in later years.”
The Finnish study, for instance, shows that sleep problems were rated higher in 2006 than in 1996, which could reflect an increased public awareness of sleep problems or changes in working conditions, such as more stressful work and longer work schedules, Marquie said. In general, sleep problems started in the 30s and then increased into the 50s, and sometimes even the 70s.
“Another important issue is that former shift workers show similar levels of sleep complaints as current shift workers,” noted Marquie, who is studying the effects of night shift work on sleep, heart disease risk and aging.
“Perhaps the main message is that some of the consequences of poor working conditions can be reversible (but not all of them), and the transition to retirement may be a ‘blessed’ period that is important not to push back too far,” Marquie said.