07/03/2010 09:59 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Better Sleep: Another Reward for Living Longer

Better sleep may actually be one of the secret benefits of living longer and living healthier. A study in the May 1 issue of the journal Sleep indicates that sleep factors big time into one's quality of life and longevity. This is an important study because it's the first to look at sleep issues in a large sample of exceptionally old adults -- including 3,927 who were between 90 and 99 years of age and 2,800 people who had reached the century mark!

Some of the finer details and findings of this latest study, which took place among China's elderly population, were:

  • Sixty-five percent of the sample reported that their sleep quality was good or very good, and the weighted average daily sleep time was about 7.5 hours including naps.
  • the oldest adults aged 100 and above were 70 percent more likely to report good sleep quality than younger participants aged 65 to 79, after controlling for variables such as demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status and health conditions.
  • Men were 23 percent more likely than women to report sleeping well.
  • Health problems were associated with worse sleep quality.
  • The odds of reporting good sleep quality also were lower in people who often felt anxious, had at least one chronic disease or struggled with everyday tasks.
  • Eighty-four percent of those studied were more likely to report sleeping well if they had adequate medical services, and they were 56 percent more likely to report good sleep quality if their family was in good economic condition.

There's no question that health conditions, which often develop the older we get, can cut into the quality of sleep. And there's also no doubt that access to quality medical care, and having enough money to live (less stress!) factors into sleep quality. I wonder if older adults reportedly slept better than their younger counterparts because they were better at handling stress? (It's been reported that the wisdom of age bears the wisdom of knowing how to cope with stress.)

Because China has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, which includes the largest elderly population in the world, it's the perfect testing ground for studying healthy longevity. According to the World Bank, China has nearly 40.5 million people who are 75 years of age and older -- another reason why observing how this population sleeps can result in some valuable findings.

So would these findings translate equally in a country like the USA? Most likely, yes. Sleep is a universal experience and a universally necessary ingredient to life. We may live with a different set of risks when it comes to disease, health conditions, and whether or not we will see "100" on a birthday cake, but we all could benefit the same from getting a good night's rest on a first birthday, tenth, or one-hundredth.

Studies like this one highlight the value sleep even when health conditions come into play. I'd love to see a similar study that asks (and answers) the "reverse" question: Does the quality of sleep later in life have an impact on the prognosis of age-related disease and illness?

The answer, I believe, is likely to be a resounding yes.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

article on sleep and longevity is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog: by Sleep Doctor Michael Breus, PhD.