Older Australians drinking themselves awake

A survey of poor sleep patterns by Sleep Health Foundation has revealed consumption of caffeine and alcohol increases steadily with age.


As a result, people aged over 55 are waking an average of 2.5 times each night, disruptions that affect sleep quality.


The findings are concerning given older people naturally have a more disturbed sleep, a known developmental change linked to ageing, says Professor David Hillman, president of the Sleep Health Foundation, Australia's leading national advocate for sleep health.


"It seems that older people are not doing themselves any favours drinking lots of alcohol and coffee, mood-altering substances which have been proven to be detrimental to a good night's sleep," Professor Hillman sais.


"As they age, people should really be consuming less of these, not more."


The online survey of 1050 people, including 730 women, found that Australians are getting 7 hours 18 minutes sleep a night on average, on the lower end of the foundation’s recommended healthy range.


Those aged over 55 got slightly less, 6 hours, 50 minutes a night, and admitted to waking 2.5 times a night on average, mostly to go to the toilet, or due to a busy mind, body aches or partner disturbance.


Ninety per cent drank coffee, 52 per cent drank alcohol, 15 per cent had sleeping tablets, all figures that were lower among young and middle-aged people. They also reported consuming larger quantities of caffeine than other age groups.


Dr Hillman said, “Our advice is if you’re struggling with your sleep, and you’ve got a bit of coffee and alcohol in your diet, experiment with having less. You could be very pleasantly surprised to find yourself sleeping better.”


"If you can, get into the habit of hitting the hay about the same time each night, it will take the unpredictability out of bedtime and train your brain to know when to start preparing for sleep."


The Foundation has more hints to improve sleep:

  • Make the bedroom as bright as possible when you first wake up in the morning

  • Eat a good breakfast

  • Go outside in the sunlight in the early mornings

  • Exercise outside in the mornings

  • Try to get between seven and nine hours sleep each night

  • Don’t exercise just before going to bed

  • Don’t drink coffee, tea or other caffeine drinks in the evening, avoid smoking just before bed or during the night

  • Be aware that alcohol in the evening is likely to affect your sleep, especially in the second half of the night, when it may become more fragmented

  • Don’t go to bed hungry or too soon after eating a large meal.

1 October 2015.