The older you are the MORE likely you will sleep like a baby, claim scientists
Study author said doctors should not dismiss sleep problems among elderly as 'part of aging'

People often grumble as they get older that they find it harder to sleep. Now a large study of adults has found the reverse may be true.

The telephone survey of 150,000 Americans found sleep quality seems to improve over a lifetime, apart from a blip in middle-age. People in their 80s were least likely to struggle to get shut-eye.

'This flies in the face of popular belief,' said study author Dr Michael Grandner, from the University of Pennsylvania.

'These results force us to re-think what we know about sleep in older people – men and women.'

Nap time: Older adults reported less sleep disturbance than younger adults

Nap time: Older adults reported less sleep disturbance than younger people

The study, appearing in the March edition of the journal Sleep, examined rates of sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue reported in the survey.

Respondents were also asked about race, income, education, depressed mood, general health and the time of their last medical checkup. All responses were weighted so that they matched U.S. Census data.

The study found health problems and depression were associated with poor sleep, with women reporting more sleep disturbances and tiredness than men.

But apart from a blip in their 40s, sleep quality improved consistently over a person's lifetime.

'Even if sleep among older Americans is actually worse than in younger adults, feelings about it still improve with age,' said Dr Grandner.

'Once you factor out things like illness and depression, older people should be reporting better sleep. If they're not, they need to talk to their doctor. They shouldn't just ignore it.'

Dr Grandner said the study's original intent was to confirm that increased sleep problems are associated with aging, using the largest and most representative sample ever to address this issue.

Instead, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that difficulty sleeping is perceived more by older adults, and challenges the general clinical practice of ignoring sleep complaints from older adults as a normal part of aging.